Question: With teacher’s convention being virtual this year, I’ve been told that I will be required to attend from my school rather than home. Is this correct?
Answer: No. Teachers’ conventions are recognized in statute as being authorized and under the control of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, not the Government of Alberta and certainly not employer school boards. The Association has imposed no requirement that teachers attending convention virtually this year must do so from their school or any other location that might be stipulated by your school board or school administration. To be clear, teachers do still have professional and contractual obligations to attend convention, and failure to do so may constitute unprofessional conduct and be subject to sanction.
While teaching at Tofield School in 1993, I missed attending one day of the North East Central Teachers Convention in Edmonton to attend the birth of my daughter Siobhan. When I explained this to the Battle River Convention chair, she looked at me over her glasses and noted that I was not actually the person in labour and that my presence at the labour and delivery room was hardly essential to the successful conclusion of the process. She still generously decided to forgive my absence for that day, but I had the sense that it was a close decision.
It is possible for a teacher to attend a previously approved alternative professional development event that is taking place on the same two days as the teacher’s designated convention. In normal years, a teacher might also seek to attend a convention other than the one to which they are assigned if, due to some unavoidable conflict, the teacher’s attendance at their usual convention is not possible. An exemption is also available for a teacher who is coaching a school team at a provincial finals competition organized by the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association or a similar provincial school athletics body; however, with all conventions being conducted virtually and COVID-19 restrictions being in place, the latter two provisions are likely moot.
If you are thinking of attending alternative professional development, it is imperative that you apply for approval in advance. This can be done by accessing the website https://ata.smapply.ca.
This year there is good reason to attend convention from the comfort and safety of your own home, and you are perfectly free to do so. It may improve your online experience if you download any convention material in advance to minimize bandwidth requirements during convention. Some teachers, especially those lacking reliable internet connections at home, may prefer, and their employer might allow them, to attend at a school using school infrastructure, but the decision to do so ultimately rests with the individual teacher.
For more than 100 years now, teachers have attended teachers’ conventions in Alberta. Originally organized by the Department of Education, teachers’ conventions provided opportunities for school inspectors to meet with teachers in each community. Over the years, the role played by the Alberta Teachers’ Association in the annual teachers’ conventions gradually increased.
In 1942, the Department of Education agreed to grant the Association the responsibility for organizing conventions consistent with its legislated mandate to improve the teaching profession by organizing and supporting groups that advance the knowledge and skill of teachers.
Even in these rather unusual times, teachers continue their professional development, including convention attendance, so that they might continue to improve their teaching practice and the learning experience for their students. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (email@example.com).