Pay attention to relationships, former president advises

May 20, 2018
Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Former ATA president Carol Henderson accepts an honorary membership award from vice-president Jason Schilling.

Carol Henderson awarded honorary membership in ATA

At a time when relationship-building is on the wane and daily pressures are ever increasing, teachers need to watch out for each other, especially when they see signs of distress.

This advice came from former Alberta Teachers’ Association president Carol Henderson while accepting an honorary ATA membership at the Annual Representative Assembly in Calgary on May 19.

Henderson warned that the important practice of building relationships and sharing conversations are becoming less prevalent in our lives. This troubling trend, coupled with the increased pressures posed by diverse classrooms and inadequate supports, is placing teachers at risk.

“Life was not meant to be lived in isolation,” Henderson said. “[Teachers] are feeling too much weight on their shoulders because they are not receiving support for students and they often face impossible expectations … I encourage you not to let these teachers stand alone.”

Henderson served as ATA president from 2009 to 2013 and was nominated for honorary membership by her local — Foothills — and its president Wade Westworth. Honorary membership is the ATA’s highest award and is reserved for those who have given meritorious service to the teaching profession or to the advancement of education.

In introducing Henderson for the award, ATA vice-president Jason Schilling described her as one of the most dynamic people in the ATA’s 100-year history and “a tireless and fierce advocate for teachers, students and public education.”

“She is a rarity who fights for what she believes in. Her intelligent grasp of issues has lead to many ministers of education being on the receiving end of one of Carol’s many sharp-witted comments — one that is coated in the sweetness of a Grade 1 teacher but leaves the recipient wondering what exactly just happened.”

Beloved teacher and leader

Early in her career Henderson moved from Saskatchewan to Alberta, where she taught elementary school music for 36 years. To this day, she is still in contact with many former students, Schilling said. He referenced former student Brienne Hurlburt, a journalist with Global News Calgary, who said in an ATA News article that Henderson, her favourite teacher, had a lasting impact on her life.

“She was the first person to show me I could develop a real relationship with adults who weren't part of my family,” Hurlburt said.

Schilling also referred to numerous glowing comments he received from PEC members and ATA staff, including media relations officer Laura Harris.

“She taught me a lot of lessons through her actions, and through her responses in difficult situations,” Harris said. “She also reinforced one very important lesson we hear all the time but sometimes forget: don’t judge a book by its cover — read it — it could end up being your favourite book of all time.”

In accepting the award, Henderson recalled the difficulty she faced after she was diagnosed with leukemia before starting her second term as president.

“Over the summer the news kept getting worse. I rewrote my will and I planned my funeral. You were all invited,” Henderson quipped.

Henderson described how she told then executive secretary Gordon Thomas that she thought she should resign due to her diagnosis but he thought otherwise, pointing out that federal NDP leader Jack Layton hadn’t resigned when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Gordon's words encouraged me, I battled through treatment and I was able to finish my term,” Henderson said. “Thank you Gordon, for changing the direction of my life and for your support during a most difficult time.”

For the last year, her term as past-president having concluded, Henderson said she has enjoyed an “interesting” retirement that has included volunteering for her church and for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I also decided to do something really, really questionable. I took up Scottish country dancing,” she said, joking that she’s the worst in the class.

“No one wants to be my partner. I'm learning a lot about humility. Trying to work with ministers of education also taught me perseverance so I'm not giving up on dancing.”

Henderson concluded by espousing the power of her three “F words”: faith, family and friends, then she shared “one last and important thank you.”

“To all of you, leaders past and present of this great organization, and the members who trusted enough to elect me as your president: I wish I could have done more. I am so humbled and so honoured. Thank you.”