Viewpoints: Hello, hello

August 29, 2017
Greg Jeffery, ATA President

Association’s new president ready to begin school year

Greetings colleagues and allow me to be among the first to wish you all happy new year. 

While the rest of the world celebrates Jan. 1, Jan 14. or Jan. 28, depending on the calendar, our beginning happens at the end of August each year. We are fortunate to work in a profession that starts new each school year and is charged with promise and hope each and every time.

“You say good-bye and I say hello.” These words from Lennon and McCartney ring true for me as I write for this space for the first time. My predecessor Mark Ramsankar said good-bye in the previous issue and it is my turn to say hello. As the Alberta Teachers’ Association enters its second century as a professional organization, I am extraordinarily proud to be your president. The ATA is world-renowned for its work and its structures. Our research is leading discussion around the planet and some of the gains that we have made are the envy of all other teacher groups.

This being said, there is still much to do and that work is already underway. I am continuing to push the government to complete an amendment to a regulation that caps pension payments. As salaries increase, this cap is affecting more and more of our teachers. An amendment is in the works that will allow all our members to access the pension to which they are entitled and for which they have already contributed. From what I have been told, the writing is complete and the amendment has passed through the ministries of Education and Finance and awaits sign off from cabinet.

Our new group of table officers is jelling nicely and has begun work on a number of files. As our executive secretary Gordon Thomas moves toward retirement in early 2018, we are also working on the transitions happening at the most senior levels of our staff and this is proceeding very well. Provincial Executive Council has also begun its work both at the AGM of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and our own Summer Conference. You will see much more of them as they serve your locals and bargaining units in the year ahead. While some good people have left, succession planning is serving us well.

We’re proud of our work on Indigenous education issues. Our Walking Together project is delivering workshops and seminars throughout the province. We continue to be serious about supporting teachers and educating them about our past, always with an eye toward how we will teach in the future. Keep in mind that Orange Shirt Day is coming Sept. 30 (the 29th in schools), so make plans for your classroom.

The Association’s stand against high-stakes testing, which awoke the planet, continues to be an 
active file. We’ve expressed our concerns directly to members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Education Minister David Eggen. The dollars we spend annually on high-stakes testing do not benefit teachers and students. It’s a waste of money, and these dollars should be spent in our classrooms. This file will remain active as we work with government on a new public assurance model.

With the completion of the central table portion of bargaining our collective agreements, we will need to monitor and to push boards to enact the language in the spirit in which it was intended. Examples of misinterpretation are already showing up, and our Economic Policy Committees will need to be vigilant as they also continue to bargain the local piece of our agreements. The classroom improvement fund will be rolling out in September in some school divisions and soon after in many others, and I would like to hear your stories about the difference these funds have made in your classrooms.

Our partnership with the government on curriculum continues and while the work of our colleagues is progressing, certain factions continue to push relentlessly for the participants to be named. This attention has been entirely unhelpful, and we will continue to fight to protect our members from unnecessary exposures to attacks in both mainstream and social media.

Back to “I say hello.” I have worked for teachers’ rights all my career and with the opportunity you have given me, I will push even harder to achieve the goals that you and I share for public education in our province. The best education system anywhere can still be improved upon. All the best in the school year ahead and please don’t hesitate to call with your concerns or good news stories! ❚

Greg Jeffery was elected president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association in March of 2017 and officially took office July 1.