ARA delegates vote on a resolution by holding up their blue voting cards.
ARA better than croquet
On the May long weekend, green thumbs go plant shopping, many Albertans go camping (in the snow), and “croquet-ophiles” plan their Victoria Day garden parties. This “May Two-Four,” I found myself seated among some 400 colleagues in the ballroom at the Edmonton Westin for the Association’s Annual Representative Assembly.
I’m a political junkie and always seem to be pulling friends, family and unsuspecting passersby into discussions that begin, “I was listening to the CBC and ...,” so it should come as no surprise that I eventually found myself sitting as a delegate in the ATA’s parliament. At the time of this writing we are about halfway through the two-day event.
So far debate has been lively. Members from across the province have passionately debated and voted on a range of motions including
- funding for inclusive classrooms,
- supporting students and teachers who organize and run gay-straight-alliances in their schools,
- developing greater online professional development resources for teachers,
- imploring faculties of education to increase funding for field experiences, and
- urging the government to develop a plan for more collaborative curriculum renewal in which teachers are front and centre in all discussions.
Many resolutions have been near-unanimous; others have been relative “sticky wickets.” With the election of our new NDP government and the optimistic work of the passionate individuals seated around me, teachers across the province should rest assured that public education and our profession are in very good hands.
Dan Grassick is a classroom teacher from Calgary who is currently working toward his PhD in secondary education at the University of Alberta.
Experience at ARA fosters appreciation
Voices, vast perspectives and intellect coupled with a unique sense of humour that only educators can identify with are the distinct experiences I take away from attending my first ARA this May long weekend.
I found myself nodding my head to contrasting opinions expressed at the microphones, saying to myself, “oh, that’s a good point, but that too is a good point.”
Often when there was a call to question after the house was strained from the longevity of the debates, I would consult quickly with my colleagues on how our vote should proceed. My own world view, experiences and education had been challenged. Passionately debated resolutions were all platforms for personal growth in awareness for me.
I was especially intrigued by the debate on election spending caps. Although I was aware of the gross differences between candidates and their parties, I was furthered enlightened by various speakers who had campaigned or volunteered their time during the election. Excellent points were raised for consideration.
The overall tone was optimistic, a stark contrast (I’ve been told) from one year ago. There were numerous messages of relief that perhaps we (members of the ATA) no longer have to brace ourselves for the next ridiculous attack on the profession from a past-its-expiry-date political regime. Despite the new political climate and its uncertainties, the resolutions and the passionate speakers still presented the message of proactive advocacy rather than reactive sentiments.
As a teacher and guidance counsellor, I was easily aligned with this mood and mindset. I left with a greater appreciation for Provincial Executive Council and staff officers being proactive and preventative in wanting to maintain their service to our membership growth.
Natasha Krec is a guidance counsellor at Clear Vista School in Wetaskiwin.
Calling the question silences important voices
What brought me to ARA 2015, my first time at an ARA, actually goes back to the events of May 2014.
At that time, I was feeling frustrated with the political scene in relation to the Task Force for Teaching Excellence and then minister of education Jeff Johnson. When that year’s ARA started, I followed the events closely on Twitter, retweeting information I found interesting and commenting directly on a few topics about which I was particularly passionate.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m attending my local annual general meeting, at which someone suggests that I be a part of the ARA for 2015.
Although the idea was intriguing, you need to understand that giving up my May long weekend and sitting for hours in a hotel ballroom discussing policy and budgets does not really fit into my wheelhouse. I am a kindergarten teacher. I sit on the floor, cross-legged, to build a zoo with blocks. I get sticky and gooey with play dough, and I “investigate” the five- and six-year-old reasons why we couldn’t go to outer space today. I am active and hands-on, which is exactly the opposite of what I perceived the ARA to be.
Now that I’ve attended my first ARA I can tell you: I was right. There are no play-based learning experiences, nor are there hands-on materials (except for the snacks) to explore and manipulate, but there is one element of the ARA that I did find fascinating and that was “my voice.”
In addition to the things I thought the ARA was about, I learned that it is also a democratic process by which those who have an idea, a thought or an opinion are allowed to get up and speak to it. Using our voices in this way is a privilege that is not available to individuals in many places in the world and one we definitely take for granted at times (remember that a 57 per cent turnout during a provincial election is considered excellent).
As a first-time delegate my voice is definitely not the loudest. It’s heard on Twitter by a few people but, prior to last weekend, not yet heard by the assembly. However, during the mini-ARA, hosted by district representative Sean Brown, I was surprised to find myself speaking to resolution 3-23 about early childhood learning. It was a powerful moment for me, and one that I have excitedly discussed with members of our local delegation. Having a voice, being able to use it and having it heard are exceptionally valuable parts of the ARA experience.
I also saw that, sometimes, discussions on resolutions can feel endless. Opinions can seem to be repeated over and over again and, for some delegates, it feels like time to “call the question,” which ends debate and forces a vote. Maybe that’s the case, but if you’ll allow a newbie perspective, I’d like to suggest that it is never time to call the question. Maybe each voice needs to be heard because maybe the voice that gets cut off when the question is called is the voice that could change your mind on a particular resolution.
At ARA, I again summoned all my courage and, still shaking and with my heart pounding, I took my place at the microphone to speak on resolution 3-40 [about combined kindergarten/Grade 1 classes] because I am a kindergarten teacher with many years of kindergarten class experiences, including kindergarten/Grade 1 combined class experiences and, therefore, I had something valuable to present to the assembly.
Unfortunately, the speaker ahead of me called the question and my voice did not get heard. Could I have changed minds? Would the decision on the resolution have been different if I had spoken? I don’t know — but neither does anyone else.
As I leave ARA 2015, I have gained a great deal of respect — for my ATA, my colleagues and most importantly, for the power of our voices, mine and yours, and I hope that we work to make the ARA the place to allow open discussion, where ALL opinions, comments and voices can be heard.
Maxine Holm is a kindergarten teacher at Mills Haven Elementary School in Sherwood Park.