Understand the past; help shape the future

February 28, 2017
Bromley Chamberlain, ATA News Staff
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar reflects on the organization’s history during a speech at North Central Teachers’ Convention on Feb. 9.
President Ramsankar looks back and forward with convention speech

In order for the Alberta Teachers’ Association to move forward, its leaders and members must know its past.

That is a message that President Mark Ramsankar is delivering at teachers’ conventions around the province this year, as he winds down his tenure and the Association approaches its 100th anniversary.

Speaking Feb. 9 at the North Central Teachers’ Convention in Edmonton, Ramsankar looked back at various women’s issues that the Association has dealt with since its inception in 1918. For example, in the early days, many young teachers were not allowed to date or get married.

“I don’t know many of my colleagues who, if they had to choose between teaching or having a relationship, would choose to be teachers,” Ramsankar said.

Ramsankar also touched on the Association’s growth during its first 100 years, from being based at the kitchen table of founder John Barnett to having a Calgary office and an eight-storey Edmonton building that now bears Barnett’s name. While describing how far teachers’ rights have come, he talked about how, when the ATA was formed, teachers were sometimes paid in chickens or other non-monetary forms.

“You traded your craft for staples, and money wasn’t necessarily it,” he said.

The Association was formed with union functions to protect teachers and give them a voice, and through its work on collective agreements, the Association has helped bring about change, he said.

“Over the years we have been able to work on collective agreements. We have been able to arrive at the salaries that we have and created benefit packages,” Ramsankar said. “These are all important to us in this day and age, and we continue to work towards achieving that.”

Another example of progress that Ramsankar pointed to was maternity leave, which first began to appear in collective agreements in the 1960s.

Although the Association has grown and evolved, Ramsankar explained that its leaders have “gone to great lengths” to maintain the organization’s original form.

Looking forward

In July, Ramsankar will take over as president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. An election is currently underway to replace him as ATA president and fill several other seats on Provincial Executive Council (PEC).

Ramsankar said the ATA was created for teachers to have a voice and that this election is a chance for teachers to be heard and help shape the organization’s future.

“It is critical that we continue to hear from you,” Ramsankar said.

He again emphasized that the Association was built on teachers and continues to rely on them today.

“Your story is the personal one that makes up the collective association,” Ramsankar said. “Who you are, what fingerprints you have left behind for the profession and every student that you have taught, affects the Association.” ❚