The Fort Vermilion School Division will be the epicentre of piloting Alberta’s controversial new K-6 curriculum and teachers there have been busy preparing.
The northern division is the only jurisdiction in the province to mandate that its teachers will be involved in piloting new curriculum. The division has chosen to proceed with three of the six subjects for which new draft curriculum has been developed: language arts, math and wellness.
These subjects align with the division’s top three priorities and the board felt that teachers could make positive change by piloting the curriculum in those subjects, said superintendent Mike McMann.
“Piloting doesn’t mean that we’re just going to validate the curriculum and off it goes,” McMann said. “It’s our job to say, ‘This works; this doesn’t.’ In the end it’s going to be up to the expertise that the government has put together.”
The division has chosen not to pilot the new social studies curriculum, which has drawn the most criticism. Concerns about the curriculum’s lack of Indigenous input and perspectives have been widespread and have been echoed by local Indigenous leaders, McMann said.
Division officials believe that the government will roll out the new curriculum as planned in the fall of 2022 and that piloting three of the six subjects now will give their teachers a leg up.
“If teachers are not going to get involved in terms of critically analyzing this from a teaching perspective, not just looking at it verbatim and not trying it, then we’re going to get what we get,” he said. “I think we can do better than that.”
Since participation in the pilot has been mandated by the board, teachers have accepted that it’s their reality and are prepared to do their best, said Myrna McLean, president of Fort Vermilion Local No. 77. However, teachers do have a variety of concerns. Topping the list is a lack of ready-made resources and the fact that a lot of students aren’t at grade level due to COVID-related disruptions last year.
Another major concern is Alberta Education’s truncated timeline – teachers will be teaching the new curriculum until the end of June, but the department will be seeking feedback and providing support only until February.
“We’re going to be working hard,” McLean said. “There are some serious challenges.”
Fort Vermilion teachers participated in a 3.5-day inservice with Alberta Education officials in June.
During that time teachers reviewed the curriculum thoroughly and sensed there was genuine interest in their feedback. That’s the mindset that teachers are taking into the pilot.
“Parents in our communities are highly involved so teachers will be collaborating with them to give the curriculum a solid try and provide open, honest and frank feedback to Alberta Education,” McLean said. “We expect them to listen to us. If they don’t, this won’t go very well.”
Looking for volunteers
Elsewhere in the province, four other jurisdictions – Christ the Redeemer, Golden Hills, Westwind and Horizon – have left the door open for teachers to pilot the new curriculum if they choose.
In Horizon, only a handful of teachers will be piloting parts of the new curriculum, said local president Walter Plumtree. Their mindset is, if the new curriculum is going to come down next year anyway, we might as well be prepared, he said.
However, the more widespread sentiment that he’s sensing among Horizon teachers is a general disappointment that the new curriculum has been so shrouded in controversy rather than being a positive step forward that teachers can be excited about.
“They would like to unpack this thing like a present for their kids,” Plumtree said. “It’d be nice if it didn’t have this taint to it.”
The Alberta Teachers’ Association is continuing to call on the province to stop its rollout of the draft curriculum, which did not involve the ATA or any active teachers, so that a variety of groups can help create a curriculum that is more modern, diverse and respectful, said president Jason Schilling.
“You’ve heard the premier and the minister both say that they are moving forward with this. We will continue to advocate around the process and the content because this affects our students,” he said.
“When you have hundreds of thousands of Albertans telling you, ‘We do not want this, this document is failing our students’ and you ignore that, it’s unbelievable to me that the government would still be pushing forward with this.” ❚