The secretary reports

January 14, 2015 Gordon Thomas

The backbone of the ATA

I had much to learn as a rookie executive staff officer when I joined Association staff now more than three decades ago.

My work was in the Professional Development program area, not Member Services, but all members of executive staff were expected to be able to handle calls from ATA members on any subject. We all took turns serving as duty officer, so it was very important to know about the common concerns of teachers and, even more important, the advice to give in these very important situations.

My office was just a few doors down from the office of Bill Anderson, a long-time and legendary Teacher Welfare staff officer, and one of the finest of the ATA’s executive staff. I learned much from Bill — he gave me great advice about my role as a staff officer, advice I still follow assiduously today. I also learned much from Bill on a day-to-day basis.

Bill, who had a fairly loud voice, always took a lot of calls from members, and even though I was down the hall, I could hear much of his conversation. I knew pretty quickly when a teacher was in trouble. Bill would answer the phone with his trademark “Anderson,” said loud enough to set back the most confident caller, and there would be a pause while the teacher explained what had happened.

In many instances, Bill would say, “You did WHAT?” and would then quickly summarize the situation. I would strain my ears to hear the summary, while asking myself what the advice should be. He would then provide advice specifically tailored to the circumstances — effortlessly. And he would remind the member to call again — maybe a bit earlier — for advice.

Members do get in trouble or experience difficulties (we receive calls from teachers who have been transferred to other teaching positions or have had their employment terminated), but there appears to be no end of possibilities.

One teacher had a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” and, just before afternoon dismissal, took her shoe off and hit a student over the head — three times. She wondered what she might do about it. Another teacher had encountered difficulty with a student on an out-of-town field trip (the student supplied and consumed alcohol), but the parent supported the student over the teacher. Another teacher had been going door to door, within his school, to secure signatures on a petition to remove the school principal. (Unfortunately, the teacher called to inquire how many signatures would be required to make such a change).

Our Member Services staff are the best anywhere. They respond to the day-to-day crises of teachers and provide advice you can take to the bank. But they can’t give any advice if teachers don’t call to receive it. So it’s really important to call for advice and don’t be afraid to make the call. Call early (although we hope you won’t have to call often). MS staff officers aren’t going to put the phone down and call your superintendent to report what you said. Sometimes a legal opinion is necessary to guide a teacher’s future actions — and our solicitors provide the legal analysis that is necessary. A teacher has responsibilities, but also rights, and a school board or a parent must act in ways that reflect those responsibilities and those rights. But so must a teacher: the standard of a teacher’s behaviour is higher than the standard expected of others. There’s a simple reason for that — we’re teachers.

Member Services is the backbone of our organization. It’s crucial that members have the support they need when they call Barnett House or the Southern Alberta Regional Office. We work for you.

Also In This Issue