ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald shares his assessment of the challenges facing the organization.
Executive secretary Dennis Theobald outlines 11 challenges facing the ATA
The past, present and future all came together, culminating in a list of 11 challenges facing the ATA, as executive secretary Dennis Theobald delivered his first report at the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA).
Theobald, who has been the executive secretary for four months, said he dug into the archives in order to prepare his report.
“What was fascinating to discover reflected in the records of previous representative assemblies is how absolutely consistent the collective vision of Alberta teachers has been over the course of 100 years,” he said.
Dating back to the very first annual general meeting of the Alberta Teachers’ Alliance (held in the First Presbyterian Church in Edmonton on April 2, 1918), that vision included advancing and safeguarding the cause of public education and bringing about united action on any matter of common interest to teachers.
“A statement that well captures our reason for being here this weekend,” Theobald said.
Among the first decisions of the fledgling organization was that it would include all teachers, and not restrict membership based on religion, gender or grade levels. Theobald noted that, during its 100-year history, the Association has expanded its reach and capacity to promote public education and advance the interests of teachers both as a union and a professional association.
“Despite all our accomplishments — indeed because of them — we cannot stand still,” Theobald said.
Turning to the present and future, Theobald outlined a list of 11 critical challenges facing the Association today.
1. Economic uncertainty
The public education system is having to manage increased costs and demands without the resources teachers need to do their best work.
2. Meeting members’ economic and work-life expectations
Teachers have responded to difficult economic conditions by agreeing to contain salary growth over the last six years and as a result have seen declines in their real incomes.
3. Provincial election
Education policy is likely to be hotly contested during next year’s provincial election. Not only are the policy positions advanced by the Association likely to be contested, but the organization’s continued existence in its current form may be threatened.
We must ensure that teachers have the resources to welcome and support every child in the classroom. Also, as a profession and organization, we need to meet growing expectations to recognize, reflect and respond effectively to the needs of women, gender minorities, Indigenous peoples, the economically and socially disadvantaged, and other diverse groups that have traditionally been underrepresented or disadvantaged.
5. Changing demographics
The Association must anticipate and accommodate the retirement of many of its core supporters and facilitate the recruitment of new members who may have different priorities and expectations.
6. Demands on volunteers
The Association and its subgroups are run by volunteer teachers who provide critical service to the membership. Are we providing appropriate support to our volunteers? How can we continue to attract volunteers to take on Association roles and responsibilities?
7. Accountability and transparency
Organizations, especially professional ones like the ATA, are having to manage increased legal, management and financial risks and accommodate expectations of accountability and transparency to members and the public.
8. Evolving policy environment
Increasingly, it is the Association that has the institutional memory and expertise that is no longer possessed by government or other stakeholders, and so it is called upon to provide advice in areas relating to curriculum, assessment, public assurance, quality standards and professional development. As a professional organization, we are pleased and honoured to do so, but we are stretched very thin.
9. Maintaining relevancy and responsiveness
Public education is often the canary in the coal mine — when there is something askew in society, it is visited upon classrooms, and teachers are among the first called upon to respond. The Association has to be there with them.
10. Association structures, culture and processes
We need to ensure that our current structures, culture and processes reflect expectations for the modern workplace. While we can manage growth in the membership and increased workloads by scaling up, we also need to look for different ways of doing our work, and we must be willing to make investments now that will help to reduce costs in the future.
11. True self-governance
What steps must we take to advance the Association’s objective of being recognized as a fully self-governing professional organization with responsibility for all aspects of governance of the profession? What capacity do we need to put into place if we are successful?
Theobald concluded his report by quoting a speech by former general secretary-treasurer John Barnett in 1937, the year following the passage of an amendment to the Teaching Profession Act that recognized the ATA as a professional body with statutory responsibilities, mandated membership for all teachers in public and separate schools, and created the foundation for teacher tenure.
“Yet withal, a consciousness of plenty of hard work ahead gave rise to hope and anticipation rather than fear and discouragement.” ❚