The Secretary Reports

December 4, 2017 Gordon Thomas

Leadership and Learning

I didn’t prepare to be an Alberta Teachers’ Association staff officer. You can’t really go to school to do that. I learned about the importance of a teachers’ organization from my father, who served for many years on the executive of the Lethbridge Public local. When I was growing up, many of our family’s friends were teachers—all active in the ATA. In my father’s generation, it was an obligation to share in service to the profession. So I followed in his footsteps when I was elected vice-president of the Education Undergraduate Society at the University of Lethbridge almost 43 years ago. I never thought I would be a part of that truly remarkable cadre of ATA executive staff, but at age 28 I was the most surprised of anyone to have an assigned parking space at Barnett House.

On one of my very first days on the ATA’s executive staff, Teacher Welfare staff officer Bill Anderson thundered into my office and shook my hand, compacting every bone, and welcomed me to Barnett House. Bill, who was way, way larger than me, then grabbed me by the lapels of my suit and brought me nose to nose. I swear my feet left the ground.

“Thomas,” Bill said, “you are a PD staff officer so I’m going to give you some PD. For free. Every day you work here, you must never, ever, ever, ever forget … who pays the fees.” Bill put me down and roared out of my office. I’ve never forgotten that very important PD, and I’ve offered it to my new staff colleagues (without grabbing any lapels).

Our members elect our Provincial Executive Council to govern our profession. It’s very important to respect the political directions established by Council and to facilitate the work of elected officials. No one elected me or my staff colleagues.

The same is true of the Annual Representative Assembly. We provide advice, assistance, guidance and support—but always respect the decisions made at our ARA. Members rule.

I’ve also learned that our members will take collective bargaining wherever they want to take it. It’s important to have labour legislation that enables this, and in Alberta we do. We have a legislated process that can be driven by members, including the right to strike. It’s vital to have the capacity to facilitate meeting the needs of our members through collective bargaining, and it’s important to have the resources at hand so we can advocate for our members. We help steer, but the members always drive the bus.

With respect to our professional functions, we need more of them. We should be able to regulate the teaching profession in Alberta, including the establishment of professional conduct and practice standards, teacher certification and ongoing development. The ATA, as the organization of the teaching profession established in the Teaching Profession Act, should have this authority. We’ve sought these functions for almost a century, and we need to ramp up our efforts to govern our profession. The minister of justice doesn’t decide who becomes and continues to be a lawyer; the minister of health doesn’t decide who becomes and continues to be a doctor or a nurse. So why does the minister of education decide who becomes and continues to be a teacher? After a full century, our profession should be able to govern itself.

And I’ve learned that how teachers are governed makes an enormous difference in the nature of an education system. The best approach is clearly a unified profession, in which teachers, school administrators, central office teachers and superintendents all work together to meet student learning needs. Collegial relations count, and can produce much more focus on student learning compared to management/labour relations. The job of each teacher is to meet their students’ learning needs, and the job of everyone else should be to help the teacher do so.

Colleagues, this is my last report as the ATA’s executive secretary. My friend and colleague, Dennis Theobald, will occupy this space starting with the next issue. I’ll be a regular reader, and I hope you will be too. Thank you for the honour to serve you. No matter what your role in our great profession, may you find happiness and success in your chosen vocation and may your commitment to your profession and this great association never die.

Today, tomorrow and always—Magistri Neque Servi.

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