Teaching into the Future
Over the past five years, teachers have had many reasons to be thankful. Classroom conditions have improved, and the provincial government has attempted to deal with class sizes. Technology is being used successfully in many classrooms. Public opinion polls have been positive for teachers and public education. The Association addressed salary issues and improved entry-level salaries for beginning teachers. The unfunded liability of the pension plan was settled. Teachers and their Association developed the Real Learning First initiative to advance policy on accountability and meaningful assessment. Teachers are working to improve high school completion rates, to improve early learning and early intervention programs, and to improve programs for English-language learners and students with special needs.
With all this positive news, why do I feel uneasy?
I feel uneasy because teachers are unable to say that any of the above challenges have been met fully.
Things started to unravel slowly last August with Bill 44, which addressed the teaching of controversial subjects. School boards had their surpluses clawed back by $56 million at the same time that teachers were preparing for the new school year. The H1N1 virus posed a threat to the health of students and teachers. Then came the disappointing announcement that the minister of education would not recognize 5.99 per cent as the increase to the Average Alberta Weekly Earnings. The price of oil and gas dropped. Alberta’s coffers, dependent on energy revenues, were not replenished, and the government found itself short of money. Now, school boards have been informed that the government will not fund the 2.92 per cent increase to teachers’ salaries in the 2010/11 school year, and no increase for operating costs is planned. Boards have been told to draw down their surpluses, and although Minister Hancock has directed boards to maintain staffing levels, the Association is aware that some boards will not heed the minister’s directive.
Many of us lived through the cuts of the 1990s. At the time, classrooms were jam-packed. Our schools were not well maintained, and janitorial services were minimal. Special programs, already under stress at that time, worsened. What did we learn from the past? We learned that high-quality education can only be maintained with adequate funding. We cannot enjoy the status of having one of the finest public education systems in the world unless education is viewed as an investment.
Teachers and education will continue to face challenges, and the Association will play an important role in addressing these challenges well into the future. The ATA will continue to monitor professional conduct and practice. The ATA, as the authoritative voice of teachers, will work with the provincial government to implement policy directions resulting from the Inspiring Education dialogue and the Setting the Direction for Special Education initiative. We’ll develop positive conditions to implement professional development. In Alberta’s educational future, teachers and their Association need to create a network of innovation and innovators. We’ll learn from the past, live for the present but not merely hope for the future; along with our students, we’ll shape a preferred future together.
In keeping with this issue’s theme of teachers and the future, I’d like to close with a quotation from futurist John Schaar, who observes that “the future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found, but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”