This school year started out interestingly enough.
Delegates at the annual Summer Conference in Banff heard relatively new Education minister David Eggen speak about the importance of funding enrolment growth in education and the value of working with the teaching profession on issues related to assessment and curriculum.
Eggen asked for patience from teachers in relation to the Student Learning Assessment program (SLA), which was about to begin its second year of piloting in Grade 3 classrooms. Some changes were made to the implementation of the program — including making it optional for boards to participate — but the SLA program would go ahead. In his words, Eggen needed to work with the clay he had been given.
While the fall implementation was markedly improved over the year before, continued concerns about the value gained in exchange for the time committed left teachers feeling underwhelmed with the program.
A fall provincial budget committed to sustained funding for education growth and promised plans for programs related to school lunches, school fee reductions and addressing classroom complexity issues in future years.
In December, a new model for bargaining teacher collective agreements was introduced and passed into law, and the Association and its teacher leaders in bargaining got down to work preparing for it.
The new calendar year brought with it the introduction of the government’s Guidelines for Best Practices related to supporting LGBTQ students. This spawned months of often divisive and sometimes heated debate around issues faced by sexual and gender minority students. Discussion about bathroom usage permeated every school staff room in the province.
Then the Syrian refugees started arriving. While some schools were affected more than others, there are very few parts of the province that didn’t accept and help settle these new Canadians. Although students came with hope and courage, they also came with memories of trauma, heartbreaking stories, limited English and in some cases, little experience with formal schooling.
A spring budget again committed to ensure that student enrolment growth would be funded into 2016/17, but also delayed the new programs proposed in the fall 2015 budget.
And then came the fire. On May 3, nearly 90,000 people were forced to flee their homes as a beast of a wildfire entered the city of Fort McMurray. The escape was harrowing and much was lost, including around 10 per cent of homes and structures in the city and neighbouring areas. As citizens are finally heading home, we will need to keep a close eye on our friends and neighbours as the emotional shock and struggle set in.
And yet we learned so much about Albertans at that time. We learned about the courage of those fleeing, the commitment of those who were called to serve (including teachers helping students to escape), the compassion of all Albertans who opened their homes and their hands to help the evacuees and the kindness of Canadians and others around the world who responded with charity and support.
Schools across the province opened their doors, too, to accept displaced students and to offer them some stability and routine at a time of chaos and upheaval in their lives. It’s pretty awesome to see how we come together.
And so here we are, in the fleeting weeks of June. Another school year is nearly behind us, but it has been a pretty incredible one.
Stay with us weary teacher. There is just one last push left.
Soon you will be able to rest. And I hope that you will be able to enjoy a nice, relaxing summer. You’ve earned it. One other highlight from the school year that I left out was the release of the Malatest study on teacher workload. That study showed that teachers work an average of 2,016 hours in a calendar year. This is the equivalent of working full-time (40 hours) for a full year (52 weeks) with time off only on weekends and holidays. For teachers, 96 per cent of that full year of time is worked between September and June.
Your summer break is not excessive time off, it’s just delayed time off. You’ve earned it. Now get out there and enjoy it. ❚
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