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Working for your colleagues is challenging and rewarding

Q & A 

December 10, 2020 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary


Question: What advice would you have for members who might be interested in applying for executive staff positions with the Alberta Teachers’ Association? 

Answer: Having just concluded a round of interviews for a position in Teacher Employment Services, this question is very much top of mind for me. Recruiting staff for the Association to provide service to members is one of the most important things we do as an organization, and our effectiveness depends on ensuring we get the right people with the right skills in the right positions. It is an ongoing activity and may occur at various times throughout the year. 

Members of executive staff must be certificated teachers, and candidates are expected to be exemplary teachers with at least five years of classroom experience. Some diversity in one’s teaching assignments including related work in school and district leadership, in government or in post-secondary education also provide relevant experience and, while certainly valued, are not an essential prerequisite. 

Just as important is volunteer experience with the Association or its subgroups. Service in a local, specialist council and/or convention association in elected or committee roles provides insights into the work we do on behalf of teachers. Service on provincial committees or participation in Association projects and activities provide useful background, particularly when that service is aligned with the program area where a position resides. Unlike some teacher organizations, being elected to the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council is no high road to employment as a staff officer, although a few members of staff have been drawn from active PEC ranks. 

While you might have had an opportunity to develop and practice particularly relevant skills, for example in collective bargaining or professional development, often hiring can only be done on the basis of potential. Rarely, for example, would a teacher do communications, government relations or member representation as part of their work, so when hiring for such roles, we are looking for individuals who have demonstrated the requisite skills, temperament and judgment for the work, understanding that they will need to undergo substantial training once on the job. 

If you are considering a career as an ATA staff officer, I strongly encour¬age you to become informed about the diverse work and activities of the Association and its role in public edu¬cation in Alberta. Please feel free to approach current members of staff to learn more about the demands and expectations of the job and the culture of the organization. To be frank, the work-load is substantial, the demands made for evening and weekend work as well as travel (once COVID-related restric¬tions have been lifted), and the typical 225-day work year are not for everyone. 

We advertise opportunities using a variety of media and through promotion by word of mouth, but the ATA News, available in print and online, is the designated place for posting job notices. (You do read the News regularly of course, if only for this excellent column?) , The Association is committed to inclusion and encourages applications from individuals of all ages, ethno-cultural backgrounds, sexual orientation and gender identities, and physical and neurodiversities. As we serve francophone members, the ability to speak and write in French is certainly an asset. 

If you see a position that interests you and you meet at least some of the criteria above, seriously consider applying. As my mother said to me “you only have a problem when they say yes.” Please understand, though, that we receive literally dozens upon dozens of applications from individuals who meet the basic qualifications for the position, and shortlisting to arrive at perhaps five or six candidates to interview is a substantial undertaking that will leave many disappointed. 

If you are shortlisted, congratulations! You are one of a very select group. Our current practice is to have a single set of interviews, which may include an opportunity to present on a previously assigned topic. The hiring committee comprises three PEC members as well as the program area co-ordinator, the president and me as the CEO. The interview process is friendly but intense, and is designed to test the candidate’s suitability for staff work, requiring them to demonstrate knowledge of the organization and its work, to parse questions and scenarios, and provide clearly expressed answers while under considerable time pressure. The final hiring decision is made by Provincial Executive Council, which considers carefully the report and recommendation of the hiring committee. 

If you manage to get through the interview but are not successful, do not be downhearted. Getting that far is a substantial accomplishment, and many current members of staff were hired only after competing and being interviewed in two or more competitions, so do try again. I myself only “had a problem” my second time through the wringer. 

I am always pleased to discuss career plans and opportunities myself with interested teachers, so if you are considering taking up the challenge to do some of the hardest, most rewarding work you will ever do in the service of your professional colleagues, please give me call. ❚ 

Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

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