I received a really interesting phone call just the other day.
It was from a school superintendent in Oklahoma who had questions about teacher attrition. He was going to be advising the government there on this issue.
Our conversation ended up roaming into a whole bunch of other areas regarding the way education systems are organized and operated. But, consistently, I found myself explaining how Alberta’s system is different than many other jurisdictions in North America.
“Is it virtually impossible to get rid of bad teachers there, like it is here?” he asked.
“Funny you should ask,” I replied.
I explained to him how we use a professional model for teacher growth, supervision and evaluation, how teachers are required to demonstrate continuous growth and improvement and how principals provide ongoing supervision of teachers. A principal can order an evaluation at any point when they believe that a teacher is no longer meeting the Teacher Quality Standard and, if the evaluation demonstrates that improvement is needed, then the teacher can be placed on a program of improvement.
Here is where I told him that our principals are members of our professional association and union. As a result, when our principals are dealing with matters of teacher performance, they will often give us a call. We will provide advice to the principal that helps ensure that the process is followed and that teacher rights are being respected.
We have a process that is fair, consistent and clearly outlined in provincial regulation and, as a result, we actually tend not to have processes for dismissal written into our collective agreements. We tend not to have very many grievances here, generally.
In Alberta, I explained, our Association functions as both a professional association and as a union.
He was intrigued.
This dual function requires us to look at a lot of issues through a professional lens and not solely through the lens of teacher self-interest. Our culture and behaviour is different than that of most other teacher unions. Sure, we want to make sure that teachers’ rights are respected and that processes are fair, but we also want to ensure that high standards for the profession are upheld.
The conversation turned to the conduct of teachers.
Being seen to be doing something about teachers who behave poorly is more valuable to the profession and to other teachers than protecting those poorly behaved teachers. Our Association takes this work very seriously.
That sounds pretty good, he said. I wish our teachers’ union was more like yours.
Then I told him about how what we have is under threat and how our minister has threatened to alter that special characteristic of our association. He quickly understood how this would be a problem.
We spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of public education and about how politicians there, like politicians here, have a whole set of similar ideas that would threaten the interests of public education. He knew that Alberta tended to be a high global performer in education and asked me why that was.
I told him what I had heard repeatedly from international experts who come to Alberta to study our system. They have said that, generally speaking, there is a high level of respect for teachers and the profession and that there are high degrees of collaboration — that the profession is engaged by the province, by school boards and by other stakeholders in a constructive way to help to continually improve the system.
It is interesting that now the government makes the argument that they need to remove our professional functions to make us more like other provinces.
The conclusion I have, that I relayed to this American educator, is very different: it is these exact differences that make Alberta an outlier, which results in us being a high-performing jurisdiction.
We need to protect these differences; they are qualities that make us special. ❚
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