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Q and A: A new premier and a new minister …

September 23, 2014 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: Is there any chance the new premier and new minister will listen to teachers? Is there any hope that teachers’ concerns will be heard?

Answer: A change of leader is an opportunity for a new beginning, and there’s no question that Premier Prentice is interested in the education file. His comments during the leadership campaign were very supportive of teachers’ concerns. He noted, for example, that in meeting thousands of parents he didn’t hear a single concern about the conduct and competence of teachers—the concerns were all about school infrastructure needs and crowded classrooms. So we are hopeful that we have a new beginning and someone who is prepared to act on teachers’ concerns.

The first challenge for the new minister of education, Gordon Dirks, will be to get elected so he has a seat in the Alberta legislature. Mr. Dirks is a teacher, and his extensive biography includes service in public schools, private schools and government. In addition, Dirks served as a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education and acted as board chair. In that role, he was well respected by Calgary Public teachers.

The Prentice government needs to act on teachers’ concerns. The multi-year legislated settlement traded off three years with no salary increase for improved classroom conditions, but teachers aren’t seeing any improved conditions in schools. The conditions just keep getting worse.

At the top of the list is support for inclusive education—more and more students continue to be crammed into classrooms without the supports needed, and this has an enormous impact on the entire system. Workload issues are becoming a trigger issue for teachers: teachers are at a breaking point across the province. Right now the hardest working teachers on the planet are right here in Alberta, where educators are facing more instructional time expectations and more out-of-school expectations.

The pending pilot of Student Learning Assessments (SLAs) will also be disruptive, as many school boards have not planned on providing the time necessary for teachers to complete the marking and other obligations required with the pilot.

I’m very hopeful that the Prentice government will act on teachers’ concerns and restore some balance. The government can certainly rebuild its support from the profession, but talk won’t do it—there will need to be concrete and sustained action on teachers’ concerns.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some calls from some senior citizens who are retired teachers. One asked, given the identity of the new minister of seniors, if they should prepare for a task force on seniors’ excellence or an attack on the conduct and competence of seniors. I guess anything is possible …

I look forward to working with Premier Prentice and Minister Dirks as they act on teachers’ concerns and work to rebuild the government’s relationship with Alberta’s teachers. ❚

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


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