Teachers in Alberta made their voices heard Sunday when a group of delegates from the Alberta Teacher’s Association voted 99% in favour of a non-confidence motion against Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
“I think people need to be aware that the ATA is made up of teachers from all over Alberta,” said Val Browne, Alberta teacher of 29 years and current president of the Medicine Hat Public Schools ATA. “From north to south to east to west, from rural to urban, so it definitely presents an accurate picture of what’s going on within public education. This is a problem, there are some very serious issues that need to be addressed.”
The ATA held its annual representative assembly virtually this year, during which the group of delegates come together to set policy, discuss direction for the association and reaffirm values and beliefs.
“One of the things that we strongly believe in at the ATA is public education,” said Jason Schilling, ATA president. “When the teachers spoke, they spoke passionately and thoughtfully about what they see as the erosion of public education, the erosion of supports for students in their classrooms, blatant disrespect for teachers and their profession by the minister and the government.
“They have seen enough that they put forward this very serious motion of non-confidence. This is a strong signal to the minister and to the government, one of their jobs is to support the public education in this province and they feel like that is not happening.”
The UCP government has most recently been criticized for its draft curriculum for K-6, but Schilling says that’s not the only reason for the non-confidence vote. The teachers have serious concerns about many items, such as the changes to their pensions, budget cuts and the handling of education and schools during the pandemic, as well as the fact they were not consulted in the process of any of those changes.
“They aren’t being consulted on things that dramatically affect their professional and personal lives,” Schilling said. “That is unacceptable to teachers and that is the message that we heard on the weekend.”
Both Browne and Schilling expressed desire for the ATA to work closely and co-operatively with the government as they move forward to repair what the teachers clearly view as a damaged system.
“We want to have an optimal, top-notch public education program for all the students of Alberta and we want to have a voice in those decisions,” Browne said. “I think it’s important that the government be able to work with teachers and teachers be able to work with the government to provide that optimal environment. I hope from here we can sit down and have productive conversation, to be able to plan effectively for the future.”
Schilling, who spent 20 years in the classroom before assuming the role of ATA president, and who hopes to return when he is done his term, spoke of the deep care and concern that teachers feel for their students and their education.
“Teachers have a responsibility to stand up and defend public education, and that’s what you saw on the weekend.”said Schilling, “The ball is in the minister’s court. If she has any interest in trying to repair her relationship with the teachers of Alberta then she needs to sit down and have a genuine, authentic conversation and start making moves to address the serious concerns that teachers have.”
Lauren Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News