Jim Parsons recognized for meritorious service
The award of honorary membership is reserved for members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association or other persons who have given meritorious service to the teaching profession or to the advancement of education. At the 100th Annual Representative Assembly (ARA), it was presented to Jim Parsons, who in 2016 retired from the University of Alberta after 41 years as a professor in its department of secondary education.
“What makes him so special as a friend, mentor and colleague is that he has always been committed to people, caring for them, nurturing their engagement and believing forever in their ability to succeed,” said ATA president Mark Ramsankar in his introduction of Parsons.
A teacher, researcher and author, Parsons told of being hired by the University of Alberta in 1976. At that time, he was responsible for the placement of 186 social studies student teachers and had only 60 teachers in the Edmonton area who were willing to take student teachers into their classrooms. Determined to find out why the intake of his U of A students was so low, Parsons set out to talk with every social studies teacher in Alberta.
“I happened to drive to Harry Ainlay High School, and there I met a young social studies teacher who was more than happy to tell me the problems of the University of Alberta,” Parsons told ARA delegates, who responded with laughter.
“His name was Larry Booi,” Parsons continued, eliciting greater laughter from those who know well the reputation of the teacher who later became an outspoken ATA president.
The year after their initial meeting, Booi joined Parsons in the social studies program at the U of A. Within two years they were providing high school and junior high placements to between 180 and 200 social studies student teachers, engaging more than 400 mentor teachers in the process. Together, the pair changed the culture of the U of A and that of the social studies community in the Edmonton area. And they did it in a way that demonstrated caring, commitment, engagement and belief in the ability of their student teachers, their program and each other to succeed, Ramsankar said.
Parsons concluded his story by saying it was about partnerships — between Booi and him, and between the U of A and the schools. He noted the importance and value of such partnerships in the face of the U.S. trend of for-profit institutions “training teachers to be teachers” and the subsequent erosion of both partnerships between U.S. colleges and schools and the quality of teachers being produced.
“We want to rely on the professional best knowledge of teachers to make decisions about the children we have,” he said. “I encourage us as partners to keep and pull and push that partnership because we need to be the best partners we can be, simply because our children deserve it.” ❚