I have had the opportunity to travel the province and meet with a great number of our members. One of the questions I often ask is, “What does the ATA’s Member Services program area do for you?” The response is consistent – most people prefer to stare at the table or desk rather than look me in the eye, while one or two usually respond, “You help us when we are in trouble.”
That is, in fact, an accurate assessment. The best way to think of Member Services (MS) is that we exist to help all our members whenever they have employment-related issues or questions.
Every year we receive thousands of phone calls to our offices about a variety of employment-related matters. Examples of such issues include
- members facing employer action such as reprimands, suspension or termination;
- questions about contracts, duties, resignation or retirement;
- interpersonal relations with colleagues, parents, students or central office staff;
- questions about professional growth, the Code of Professional Conduct, FOIP and other privacy concerns and liability; and
- members dealing with verbal, physical or sexual assault, or members facing criminal allegations related to their employment.
We want you to call us whenever you have a question – there is no such thing as a silly or stupid one. By being proactive you are better able to minimize a problem before it gets worse.
What happens when you call MS?
We have structured MS to be responsive to our members. The offices in both Edmonton and Calgary are open year round with a staff officer assigned each day to be a duty officer. This person’s job is to answer the phone when you call. All staff officers are teachers and many have either school- or district-based administrative experience.
When you call MS, the receptionist will ask you for your name, school, school board and a brief description of your issue. This information is passed on to the duty officer, who will conduct some brief research into whatever policies or regulations pertain to the issue at hand before returning your call to discuss the matter with you.
During our conversation we will ask you to tell us what is happening. The more information that is shared with us, the more accurate our advice can be. It’s important to note that, when we give advice, we will lay out a variety of options, but we do not tell a member what to do. Ultimately it is the member who will make the decision. The result of MS receiving thousands of phone calls each year is that the staff officers have dealt with a wide variety of situations and, although it may be new to a member, it most likely will not be new to us.
A few key points to remember
All calls to our offices are confidential and they remain confidential unless you, as the member, give us permission to speak on your behalf. It is also important to note that we do not provide MS representation for all employment situations, because we simply do not have the staff to do so. Our guiding principle is this: If the situation is disciplinary in nature or could lead to disciplinary action, you are entitled to have representation by a staff officer from Member Services.
The articles in this issue of the ATA Magazine highlight some of the work we do in Member Services. It is my hope and intention that members will contact us whenever they are having employment-related issues so that we can provide them with advice that will help them address their specific situations.
Brian Andrais is the co-ordinator of the Member Services program area at the Alberta Teachers’ Association.