I grew up in a lower middle-class neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton. My father was a public sector plumber and my mom suspended her nursing career to stay home and raise the children. I was the youngest of five kids.
We didn’t have a ton of money, but we lived a decent, modest life.
When I was seven, my parents divorced. My mother moved into a low-end rental in Edmonton’s Beverly neighbourhood with two of my siblings, while my brother and I stayed to live with Dad. My other brother left home at 16.
The next few years came with struggles. My mother, battling depression, went on social assistance. My dad had the costs of one household while also paying support for the second household.
We need to speak out ... we cannot allow the turmoil of the 1990s to be repeated.
I am incredibly proud of my mom, though. She worked hard to get back up on her own feet. She went back to school and ultimately returned to nursing. Within a couple of years she moved out of that apartment and eventually bought a place of her own.
This is around the time Ralph Klein became premier. My parents were both public sector workers, and their workplaces became more stressful as layoffs intensified the work while anxiety about further job losses rose.
My father nearly led his union local on strike as management pushed for a 33 per cent wage rollback. Both parents survived successive rounds of layoffs, but they could hold on only so long. Mom was eventually laid off and dad was pushed into early retirement.
As an adolescent growing up through this, I came to understand clearly that education would be fundamentally important for me. Working hard at school, going to university and getting a good education represented a pathway out of poverty.
But I knew our struggles were not unique. I saw many families around me with the same or worse challenges. Education represented hope for them and for society generally. I decided education would not just be my goal, but it would also be my purpose. And by 2000, I was a teacher with my own classroom.
The challenges affecting my parents’ work were also affecting teachers. Class sizes were large, students weren’t getting the supports they needed, and teachers were being asked to do more for less. By my second year of teaching, teachers had had enough.
It was 2001/02, and I saw teachers and the Alberta Teachers’ Association taking a principled stand to protect and promote public education. I knew then that I had to join the fight.
And we won that fight. It wasn’t easy — nearly two-thirds of members walked off the job — but we won a fair arbitration for salary and a commission on learning that brought about recommendations on class size and learning conditions.
Unfortunately, colleagues, it feels like we are headed back to that dark place. Already, our class sizes are now larger than they were in 2002. Eighty per cent of K – 3 classrooms exceed recommended guidelines, and that’s not accounting for increased complexity. Too many students go without the specialized supports and services they require for success.
The road ahead looks rough for education funding. I worry about more cuts to supports and services that students and teachers rely on.
We need to speak out. I am asking you to join me, the Association and your colleagues in the fight for public education. We cannot allow the turmoil of the 1990s to be repeated.
The first step is the #MyClassSizeIs letter writing campaign that we launched this fall. Your ATA school representative has received a pad of letter templates that we are asking you to use to send a quick note to your MLA. Tell the story of your classroom, share your letter on social media and return it to your school rep so we can send it to your MLA.
By coming together and engaging all of our colleagues, we can ensure that public education remains a priority and that it continues to live up to the promise that it offers for all Albertans. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.