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Q & A: I’m displaced; can I still teach?

May 31, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: I’m a Fort McMurray teacher. I want to stay connected with my students, who now mostly reside in Edmonton. Can I teach in Edmonton?

Answer: The events in Fort McMurray this past month have been completely unreal, except of course, that they are very real. I can only imagine the terror of driving, often inching along, with fire in full force on both sides of the road. There will be many more stories told of the remarkable heroism of Fort McMurray teachers: first to respond to the emergency and the last to be reunited with their families. In between, of course, the dedicated service of teachers kept students safe in an extremely difficult situation. Many teachers did not get to go home before the mandatory evacuation: they had students in their care.

As flames approached Beacon Hill School in Fort McMurray, teachers there started to evacuate students well before the mandatory evacuation was issued hours later. Indeed, the circumstances required the evacuation of the students to another school. As circumstances worsened across the city and an evacuation commenced, some residents were evacuated north and others south; in some instances, families were divided and parents unable to get to their children. Teachers were still caring for the students in their charge more than a day later. So there will be many stories of heroism and many reminders of the invaluable work that teachers do every day to build their community.

It’s now apparent that schools will not reopen until the fall, but families are scattered in many communities. So are teachers, and we have had some questions from teachers who wish to continue to work with their students, albeit in another community and under the auspices of another school board.

Teachers who wish to work with students enrolled by any school board are certainly welcome to do so, but not as teacher employees. Teachers continue to be employed by their school board. However, Fort McMurray teachers can volunteer to help in a classroom. There is an important distinction — the teacher employed by the resident school board is the responsible teacher: responsible for instruction to students as required by the School Act and responsible for professional conduct and professional practice under the Teaching Profession Act. The teacher volunteer is not employed by the board, subject to the requirements of the employer and the collective agreement.

So, to be clear, Fort McMurray teachers are free to volunteer to assist, subject to a school board’s policy on volunteers, but they cannot command a classroom or be responsible for students. The teacher employed by the resident school board has these professional obligations and they cannot be transferred. Where classes have grown substantially because of the influx of evacuated students, it is the school board’s obligation to hire additional teachers (albeit for a few weeks), not to be hopeful that evacuated teachers will volunteer to serve.

As residents begin to return to Fort McMurray in early June, it will be teachers who are at the forefront of rebuilding the community. They make Alberta’s teaching profession proud, delivering in every respect on the obligations of professional service, raising the status of the profession and making an incredible difference in the lives of their students and the community they serve. Fort McMurray teachers command our respect and admiration for their dedicated service.❚

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

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