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Viewpoints: Teacher discipline in good hands

May 30, 2017 George Epp, Professional Conduct Committee

On Dec. 10, 2003, the minister of education appointed me to serve as a public member of the Professional Conduct Committee of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. I have had the privilege of serving on that committee for the past 13 years.

For those who are unaware, the committee comprises 17 or more members of the Association (appointed by Provincial Executive Council) and three members of the public (appointed by the provincial government in consultation with the Association). From this pool, the executive secretary appoints three to five people to form a hearing committee to hear each specific case. In the case of an indictable offence, the hearing committee must include a public member.

Over the course of my 13-year involvement, I was appointed to 38 hearings and worked with so many high-quality people — teachers appointed out of ATA membership. I also attended 11 annual meetings, during which we looked back and ahead in order to improve the discipline process — members of the Professional Conduct Committee, ATA staff and Alberta Education people all working together to improve the process. Always the first consideration is the public and the safety of students in our Alberta schools.

At the beginning of each hearing, the committee is presented with all of the documentation and an agreed statement of facts or witness testimony. Hearings can last one day to more than a week, depending on how much material needs to be considered.

The three committee members appointed by the ATA are selected because of their background, gender, region and suitability, and often they do not know each other well. During all of the hearings that I participated in, there was never a time when, at the end of it, I didn’t feel that we had together come up with the best, most fair conclusion. In every instance, as the hearing began and information started to come together, we as a committee kept sharing our thoughts, always learning from each other’s knowledge and observations in order to achieve the best possible results.

I remember a particular hearing that lasted for hours as the committee members heard in graphic detail about a situation that had happened many years earlier. It was related to sports and an inappropriate relationship between a coach/teacher and a student. It had taken many years for the student to summon the courage to come forward with this information, because she still felt intimidated. Throughout the critical hearing process, committee members listened attentively, assessed the credibility of witnesses and engaged in thorough discussion with the greatest of care, with the ultimate aim of ensuring the high quality of public education in Alberta schools.

I want to assure readers, from teachers to members of the public, that the entire process of these hearings is the best possible. From the administrative matters to the investigative work, presentation of the facts and final decision, this process makes education better in Alberta.

Based on my experience in these hearings, I have a few thoughts for teachers.

Make sure you refer students who have trouble to the appropriate help.

Remember: parents are parents, not another “stakeholder.”

Field trips should be safe places for students, and the focus should be on student safety and learning. They’re not outings for teachers.

School sports teams should be a place where students feel safe and valued, not a place where it’s never enough and they hear “we must win at any cost.”

Technology plays a major role in the life of most students and many staff, and can also lead to inappropriate communication and relationships. Guard against getting caught up in too much electronic communication with students. There are many warning signs: time of day, personal matters and a move away from a proper teacher-student relationship.

After these 13 incredible years, I have resigned my spot on the committee as my wife and I are moving to Bangladesh to take on international development work. As I prepare for this exciting transition, I want to express my sincere thanks to the ATA for the tremendous opportunity to serve on this committee. I also want to thank the ATA people who manage and direct the discipline process. You have done and are doing a great job to maintain a high standard of professional conduct for Alberta teachers. And to all committee members, I wish you well in the future. This is hard work, and your input and insight are needed and appreciated. ❚

George Epp is a consultant on newcomer matters who currently lives in Taber.

This opinion column represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

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