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Q & A: The profession and the union

October 7, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: I read that a teacher was hounded by a parent for disciplining their child and hauled in front of a professional conduct committee and threatened with the loss of the teacher’s career. This is getting ridiculous. I’m tired of teachers being bullied by parents. Why doesn’t my union stand up for me?

Answer: Whoa. Let’s start with some facts. The Alberta Teachers’ Association was established under the Teaching Profession Act, first passed in 1934, and our objects outline our statutory obligations. One of our obligations is to protect the public and the profession from conduct that is unacceptable. Conduct standards are set by the Association and appear as the Code of Professional Conduct, approved by our Annual Representative Assembly.

A process has been established to address allegations of unprofessional conduct, and any person can lodge a complaint about the conduct of any ­active member of the Association. When a complaint is received, I am required to investigate the complaint and to consider whether the concerns raised in the investigation warrant a hearing. Where there is sufficient evidence of unprofessional conduct, I order a hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee. The Association’s responsibility is to protect the public and the profession, so our role is to present our concerns to the hearing committee. The Association does not represent the member whose professional conduct has been called into question.

While we have very clear obligations to protect the public and the profession, we also have responsibilities to our members under the Labour Relations Code and the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act. Since 1942, the Association has held the bargaining certificates for our active members across the province. We routinely represent our members when there are concerns that parents or others may be unreasonable. Bullying a teacher is entirely unacceptable, but that’s very different from a complaint filed under the Teaching Profession Act about a teacher’s professional conduct. In rare and very extreme cases, the Association has initiated civil action against individuals who defamed teachers, and we have won substantial awards through the courts.

So the Association does stand up for its members. But we also protect the public and the profession from the unacceptable professional conduct of members, including taking action that can remove members from the profession of teaching. Our obligations include both professional regulatory and union functions.

If you have further questions about our obligations, feel free to contact me at Barnett House. ❚

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

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