ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald delivers his annual report during ARA 2020, held Aug. 13 and 14 via webinar.
Emergency remote teaching coupled with a highly ideological government agenda have tested the resiliency, resourcefulness and commitment of teachers, said executive secretary Dennis Theobald at the 103rd Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) on Aug. 13.
Speaking to more than 400 delegates who attended ARA via Zoom, Theobald said that the suspension of in-school learning has highlighted how central schools are to the well-being of students, their families and the community, but also the capacity of the system to adapt to new realities.
Teachers have responded with an exceptional ability to seek out unique and creative solutions to get the job done in the face of longstanding challenges and deficiencies.
“Unacceptably large class sizes that were once a pedagogical challenge are fast becoming a critical health threat,” said Theobald.
We will have to confront these [issues] with solidarity, strength of purpose and an absolute commitment to standing up for our profession and for the children that we serve.
He drew attention to the government’s lack of a credible plan for school re-entry, as well as inadequate supports for students with special learning needs made worse with the laying off of more than 20,000 education workers in April. In addition, the shortage of substitute teachers in many parts of the province will be amplified by restrictions on movement during a time when their services will be most in demand.
With all of these issues, Theobald says there is no shortage of advocacy work, and the Association has been working to influence the government’s plans for a safe return to school in September.
“While teachers’ concerns have been advanced and, in some measures, listened and responded to, we remain very concerned about restarting schools, particularly if the resources, personnel and standards are not in place to enable teachers, students and staff to do so safely,” he said.
Looking internally to Barnett House operations, Theobald says a constant and guiding question for the Association has always been, how can we do better for our members? He stressed the importance of not shying away from asking hard questions and seeking out innovative solutions. He noted that the Association recently undertook a review of its information technology system infrastructure with the goal of enhancing members’ digital experience while containing costs, as well as the streamlining of departments to better serve members. The Member Services and Teacher Welfare program areas will be merged under the new title of Teacher Employment Services.
“This new design, together with the reorganization of committee structures supporting collective bargaining, employment benefits and pension will enhance our ability to support teachers in matters relating to their employment, individually and collectively,” he said. “We will be able to deploy staff more efficiently and flexibly in response to emerging demands and challenges and we will also ensure that we have access to expertise necessary to do our best work for teachers.”
Theobald reminded delegates that teachers will be dealing with the pandemic for a long time, as well as the various challenges posed by the government in terms of curriculum, organized labour and public education, but he urged them to take heart.
“We will have to confront these with solidarity, strength of purpose and an absolute commitment to standing up for our profession and for the children that we serve.” ❚