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Take note: 2021 will test us


January 12, 2021 Jason Schilling, ATA President

As we turn the calendar, we reflect on the past year and look toward the year ahead. The year 2020 was a struggle for many of us, both professionally and personally. I believe no one is immune to the pressures of the pandemic, but teachers have shown great resiliency and commitment to their profession and their students. I have never been prouder to be a teacher than I was this last year, as difficult and weird as it was.

Those who have worked with me know that I take copious notes in meetings and am a bit of a list maker, a habit I picked up when I was a local president. It’s still how I try to organize the details that cross my desk. Last year, I filled four 200-page notebooks and created a list of 53 issues that I addressed in media interviews.

As you can guess, the pandemic was the number one issue that consumed most days and several sleepless nights. Along with the pandemic, this last year saw the ATA tackle issues like the pension hijacking, the arbitration ruling, budget cuts and a myriad of concerns around curriculum redesign — just a few of the 53.

The last year also saw our relationship with government, and specifically the education minister, become more tenuous. This tumultuous relationship came to a head in the summer as the ATA struggled to get a meeting to discuss our ongoing concerns with the government’s re-entry plan. This frustration spilled over into social media, with members voicing a strong undercurrent of discontent throughout the summer.

It would be easier to walk away from trying to mend this, but I have always been taught to lean into problems. Under much media scrutiny, we finally scheduled a meeting and began regular meetings involving ourselves and the other education partners. These meetings are by no means perfect, but they are a start.

So what lies ahead for 2021? Hopefully we will see the pressures of the pandemic ease and eventually end. Alleviating the constant demands of the classroom and health protocols will be a great relief for teachers, administrators, students and their parents.

I always say that we fight for what we believe in and that we each have an important role in advocating for our public education ... I predict that 2021 will seriously challenge our resolve ...

In late winter we should finally get to see the draft K–6 curriculum from Alberta Education. Teachers and the ATA have essentially been shut out of this process. We have expressed our grave concerns about the entire process to date, specifically the “advisors” such as Dr. Champion, along with the lack of transparency.

The Association will be watching for plans and details around field testing implementation, professional development support, resourcing of materials, funding and assessment. (It makes no sense to me to create a new curriculum then overlay it with an antiquated assessment structure.) Though the ATA’s involvement in the process has been diminished, this won’t stop us from voicing the concerns of the profession. Teachers have a strong connection to the curriculum they teach, and we need to ensure that government gets it right. We don’t want to see this fail or stall again.

Another issue on the horizon is central table bargaining. We are currently list bargaining, which has been delayed a few times due to the pandemic. As their top issues, teachers have identified class size and complexity, along with wages.

The ATA will provide updates to the bargaining process through our website, Council members and local teacher welfare chairs. It will be up to all of us to remain engaged in this process. We cannot let bargaining become a wedge issue for government; it is one area where we all must stand together as one big bargaining unit.

The provincial budget will have implications for teachers, our classrooms and our schools. We have all witnessed the downward spiral of our economy during the pandemic. This will affect education, especially since last year the funding formula was significantly changed to a weighted rolling average. Education has been chronically underfunded for years, and the government cannot keep asking schools to do more with less.

Of course, this is a short list — not quite your average to-do list — but it is definitely a list that requires our attention as an association and as a profession. These issues hit the very core of what it means to be a teacher: curriculum, class sizes and funding for our students.

I always say that we fight for what we believe in and that we each have an important role in advocating for our public education. And I predict that 2021 will seriously challenge our resolve in this regard. ❚


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