From the President

October 1, 2010 Carol Henderson

A Vision of Education

Carol HendersonWhen you peruse this issue of the ATA Magazine, I trust you’ll be settled into the new school year. For educators, September is an exciting month of new beginnings. It’s a month of change, a time for setting goals and establishing important relationships with colleagues, students and parents. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on past school years and relive our successes and ponder our shortcomings, the latter being the catalyst for a commitment to do better this year.

As the organization representing the province’s teachers, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has had many successes over the past years—the five-year agreement, resolution of the unfunded liability of the teachers’ pension and workforce stability among them. For the last three years, teachers have enjoyed the same economic benefits as other Albertans. Good salaries and pensions are important, but let’s turn our thoughts to the classroom and the escalating expectations placed on teachers.

I have vivid memories of my first days of teaching elementary school, when educators and students returned for a busy year of teaching, learning and studying. I have equally vivid memories that my colleagues and I did far too much, a reality that persists to this day. More and more duties and responsibilities have been piled on our plates, meaning that time for building professional relationships with our colleagues and students, and time for stillness and reflection have diminished.

This feeling of being overwhelmed is not imaginary—research undertaken by your Association indicates that the province’s teachers work an average of 53 hours a week! Teachers are expected to meet more demands in more ways than ever before and to do so under increasing scrutiny, which is neither helpful nor supportive.

The workloads of special education teachers are of particular concern. Of all the classroom indicators tracked by the ATA’s research unit, support for students with special needs and their teachers has shown the most dramatic and consistent decline across the province. This is happening despite the release of the government’s Setting the Direction Framework. Teachers alone cannot meet all the requirements of special needs students in our highly diverse and complex classrooms.

Another distressing issue is the potential fate of some students who come into our classes with little or no English language ability. If we fail to provide these students with linguistic education and make them part of our school communities we risk losing them to communities of questionable benefit to society—a risk that would almost surely incur social costs as well.

Special needs education and language acquisition are only two of the many complex educational issues facing teachers today that add to teachers’ already burdensome workloads.

There is hope, however, that Education Minister David Hancock’s Inspiring Action framework will address workload. I’m excited about the work that ATA staff have undertaken over the summer. We’ve responded to Inspiring Action by reviewing our own research and developing a framework for informed transformation of Alberta’s schools, though I believe that we have a narrow window of opportunity to effect the necessary changes in our education system.

What can the teaching profession do to advance Inspiring Action? First, we must be clear about our vision for public education in Alberta and ensure that it becomes the focal point of the ongoing consultation process. If we don’t take the initiative to lead the discussion on what education in the future will look like, we open the door to those who have different views and ulterior motives to enter and take control of the education agenda. The fallout will be a government bureaucracy that will make piecemeal and incremental changes driven by a lack of clear vision, fiscal mania and more standardized tests.

We must express our framework in clear language and images that have meaning to the Alberta public, the government and the business community, as well as parents and nonparent taxpayers. We must persuade people that we can make Alberta a showcase for public education in the 21st century, nationally and internationally. The right decisions must be made now.

On behalf of my colleagues on Provincial Executive Council, I wish you a most rewarding and enriching school year.

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