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August 26, 2014 Patrick Duffy

The ATA always rises to the challenge

At this year’s Annual Representative Assembly (ARA), Patrick Duffy was awarded honorary membership, the ATA’s highest award. Featured here is an edited excerpt from Duffy’s acceptance speech, delivered May 17.

I hold the Alberta Teachers’ Association in the highest esteem. It is an organization whose level of transparency, openness and sincerity is an example for all public institutions to strive for, especially political parties that love to preach about such lofty goals but never come close to achieving them. The ATA displays the epitome of democracy, which will be on display this weekend as delegates work through resolutions and set the budget. For those of you who are first-time ARA delegates, you’re in for an eye-opening experience on how democracy should work in government and how it actually works in the ATA.

After experiencing the life of a classroom teacher for 32 years and serving as an ATA school representative, a member and chair of local committees, a local president, a pension consultant and a district representative on Provincial Executive Council, I can say confidently that with the ATA, the tail does not wag the dog. The members of the ATA wag this dog’s tail. Maybe it is because the Association is such a democratic and transparent organization that it is constantly under attack from those organizations that fear the public will make the same demands of them.

The ATA has always risen to the challenges in the past and with your guidance, it will do so again. It is vital that you remain strong in your fight for students and for public education in Alberta…

One thing I appreciate about receiving this award is that it’s being presented to someone who’s been a classroom teacher throughout his career. I taught full time for 24 years in the classroom—teaching Grades 2–9. In my last eight years of teaching, I taught half time and was on half-time release to fulfill my duties as district representative. I view myself as a teacher who’s been on the frontline trenches throughout my entire career and who has first-hand experience and knowledge when it comes to understanding teachers’ issues.

The fact the ATA is awarding an honorary membership to someone who spent his career in the classroom shows how important classroom teachers and other educators who are engaged with students on a day-to-day basis are to the ATA. It also sends the message that although the ATA is a huge organization, you’re not forgotten, no matter where you teach in Alberta.

Something I discovered in my teaching career that was a great asset to me was the importance of having a sense of humour. I found that regardless of how stressful my assignment became or how deplorable the teaching conditions were, I could always keep my head above water provided I maintained a sense of humour.

During my teaching career, I had the opportunity to teach challenging students. It was during those times that I created an imaginary student named James Hayes. I often talked about James with my colleagues. Some said my imaginary student was brought on by a need for comic relief; others claimed it was a sign of a stressed teacher who needed severe psychological counselling.

So at the end of a difficult school year in which staff enquired about James on a daily basis, I showed them a letter he’d written me.

Dear Mr. Duffus (obviously not one of my stronger academic students),

I will miss yous. Yous was a good teater. You taught me hows to write a story real good. When I was bad, you didn’t get mad much. When I swore God’s name in vain, you told me not to pray so loud. When you found my cigarettes, you said: ‘They must’ve been the principal’s.’ When you found my bottle of booze, you just took it and didn’t tell anybody. When I found it empty the next day, you said the other grade three teacher must’ve drank it. When I skipped school, you never reported me missing. When our class went to church and you caught me blowing bubbles in that holy water fountain thing, you held my head under water for five minutes and told that priest guy you were baptizing me. I am sad you are leaving Mr. Duffus.

In conclusion, I thank the Alberta Teachers’ Association for presenting me with this award. To each of you delegates, please continue the good fight for public education that you do through the ATA. Although there are battles ahead, remember there has never been an easy time in the history of the Association. The ATA has always risen to the challenges in the past and with your guidance, it will do so again. It is vital that you remain strong in your fight for students and for public education in Alberta because, after all, the only group that the students and the parents of Alberta can count on to do what is best for public education is the Alberta Teachers’ Association. ❚

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