When it began life as the Alberta Teachers’ Alliance in 1917, the ATA had as one of its first policy objectives that the teaching profession should be fully self-regulating. The profession itself, through its professional organization, should set the requirements for certification, issue teaching certificates, and set professional conduct and practice standards. In 1936, the William Aberhart government amended the Teaching Profession Act to grant the ATA legislative and regulatory authority for professional discipline, and these provisions have been revised, strengthened and expanded by the legislative assembly on multiple occasions since that time.
So why has Education Minister Adriana LaGrange now introduced legislation in Bill 15 to remove the Association’s responsibility to establish and police professional conduct standards?
It’s all about payback and diminishing the role of teachers and the teaching profession. In the minister’s view, teachers can’t be trusted with these responsibilities. The minister does not see teachers as self-actualized professionals who are skilled practitioners and who maintain high standards. Teachers are technicians who need to be managed by their superiors. (Expect principals down the road to be removed from the Association — they are managers, and management can’t be members of the bargaining unit.) The education system should rely not on teachers but on management, which will direct the teacher technicians. And what are the views of teachers, who work every day with their students? The minister isn’t interested in what teachers think; management will tell the government what is best. For that matter, lessons can be created by management and distributed to teacher technicians to teach.
By diminishing the profession, the minister will destroy the collegial culture in schools. With the Association converted from a professional association to a full trade union, and with principals eventually removed from the union since they are management, the profession will be recharacterized as management and labour, rather than the collegial structure that exists today.
Professional decisions normally made by colleagues will now be management–labour issues. Principals will become managers of grievances, not instructional leaders. The minister, not the profession, will set conduct and competence standards, in conjunction with management, and compliance will be mandated. Management will be rewarded for the results its teacher technicians achieve, and the expectations for those results will, of course, be set by the minister.
In sum, diminish the profession by removing its professional functions and by refusing to listen to the profession. Remove principals from the Association because they are managers, not instructional leaders. Recharacterize the profession in the context of management and labour, and empower management to direct its teacher technicians. For the minister, management becomes the voice of the profession. And with respect to the union (the remaining functions of the ATA), use government authority to restrict bargaining rights, cap funding and force strikes. Attack pay, benefits and security of tenure. The Association becomes the big, bad, self-interested union.
The minister’s plans are not about protecting the public interest and they are not neutral. Together, these actions will destroy what’s left of what was once the world’s top English-speaking education system. A professional collegial culture, where teachers are supported in their work, will be replaced with a management–labour culture where teacher technicians are directed.
The professional association with a strong commitment to professionalism, as exists now, will be transformed into a union with a role limited to the members’ interest and collective bargaining. And the minister and her government, fed up with having to listen to teachers criticize their new curriculum, critique their ongoing funding reductions, expose their preference and priority for privatization, and question their plans (or lack thereof) to manage COVID-19 in schools, will have the satisfaction of putting those pesky teachers in their place. ❚
A teacher for well over four decades, Dr. Gordon Thomas served on the ATA’s executive staff from 1984 to 2018, and from 2003 to 2018 as its chief executive.