But not for the reason Jeff Johnson is selling.
A public school teacher does something against the Alberta Teachers’ Association Professional Code of Conduct. It’s bad enough to earn that teacher disciplinary action; a recommendation to have their teacher’s certificate suspended, let’s say for six years. What does this mean for students in classrooms six years from now?
Not much, because that teacher will likely never be back in the classroom.
Jeff Johnson, the Education Minister of Alberta, would have you believe that he’s the reason why. This is far from the truth.
Let’s take the Education Minister out of the equation (which is not abnormal because that’s how professional discipline has been taking place for 78 years).
Let’s say that teacher, who after six years has not been teaching in public schools, wants to go back into the classroom. They’d have to apply to the ATA to get their certificate back. They’d have to prove that there is no chance, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they will relapse into their previous inappropriate behavior. He or she would have to convince a panel of professionals who are under constant public scrutiny that he/she has rehabilitated him/herself so much so that he/she is worthy of that very same public scrutiny.
I can count on my index finger the number of times that someone has actually been able to convince the ATA they are worthy of that scrutiny in the 78 years the ATA has been doing this. The ATA doesn’t want unprofessional individuals in their midst, because where the media is involved, one bad apple rots the whole bunch.
There are some caveats here; that teacher simply is suspended from teaching in public schools. That means the teacher, who still holds a valid teacher certificate, can be hired to teach in a private school or charter school in Alberta, because the ATA holds no jurisdiction there. They can also apply for a teaching certificate in any other province or territory because, again, the ATA holds no jurisdiction there.
But really, who would hire that potential bombshell? The ATA sends details of their disciplinary actions to all other professional bodies in the country, just as those other professional bodies send their disciplinary action details to the ATA. This makes that person virtually unhireable, but if a private school were to actually be insane enough to hire that person, they’d have to justify that decision to the people who pay tuition to that school – parents (oh, and the people of Alberta who fund those schools to 70% of student instructional grants).
This is the way professional conduct issues have been dealt with for decades. The people of Alberta must recognize that it works as well, as we have one of the most enviable Education systems in the world, and that other top-notch education systems, including Finland, Singapore, and another leader in Canada in Ontario, come to the Alberta Teachers’ Association for advice and input. The professional conduct issues are dealt with not only adequately, but in such a way that the profession in Alberta can self-advance to the top of the world.
Government interference would completely inhibit that self-advancement. It’s why government doesn’t get involved in issues of professional discipline in the medical field, engineering field, legal field and other professions, so that they can self-govern, ensure every member adheres to a certain code of conduct, and therefore have the ability to advance themselves as well. Further to that, the only people who can appropriately self-regulate are the ones with the expertise and knowledge in the profession. It would be a scary scenario if people with no expertise in accounting started regulating what products chartered accountants can suggest to their clients.
The desire to advance the profession to the betterment of the public trumps any desire to represent poor professionals. We call this “enlightened self-interest”, recognizing that serving the public good also serves our own interests. In a self-serving way we could say “why would we want to keep around the bad, they could easily just drag us down”. For teachers, that has been the reason we self-regulate, to get rid of the bad apples that would cast a pall over the whole bunch, such that we do indeed serve the public good, namely our students.
Insert Jeff Johnson. Or rather, Jeff Johnson, insert yourself.
Recently he overturned 4 recommendations of disciplinary action by the ATA, saying they weren’t harsh enough. Rather than a suspension, that as previously discussed would make the person unhireable, Johnson nominates himself judge and jury and gives these 4 a life sentence, suggesting the ATA is unwilling to do so themselves.
He never mentions the fact that the ATA has already recommended numerous other life sentences on its own. Something about these four very serious cases, with public hearings and legal counsel present, gave the ATA the impression that rehabilitation might be possible if the offenders so chose. History has reflected that the offenders would not choose to return to the profession, so it would be a non-issue, but in our society, even in the legal system, we allow the opportunity for rehabilitation. However, Johnson isn’t interested in opportunities to improve one’s behavior, nor is he interested in precedent. Just in opportunities for him to be judge and jury. So judge he does.
The offenders are never going to teach again. Johnson just used red ink instead of black ink on the death certificate of those individuals’ teaching careers.
The only other thing that Johnson’s decision has done is ensure the offenders can’t teach at private or charter schools in Alberta. As many who have decried the ATA’s “soft” approach suggest, this is probably a good thing. However there is another way of dealing with that.
Don’t have private or charter schools in Alberta.
Not only would you ensure that anyone who the ATA disciplines can’t get a job in Alberta, but every dollar of public education money would actually be spent on – get this – public education. This has been the position of the ATA for many moons.
So, as this seems to be the latest battle in a war Johnson has declared against the ATA, one must ask themselves the question “which is more likely, that a disciplinary process that has been in place for 78 years has been defunct that entire time and that the quality of our Education system is simply a 78-year-old fluke, or that the Education Minister has a particular agenda against the Alberta Teachers’ Association.” For the answer to this question, we must surveil the activities between the two thus far.
Johnson has gone out of his way to make the Alberta Teachers’ Association his adversary. Had he spent even an iota of this warring time on reducing child poverty, reducing student inequality, correcting infrastructure issues, enabling the professional development of teachers, improving classroom conditions, developing a balanced curriculum, or any other issue that actually exists in education as opposed to fabricating issues, we would be looking at a vastly improved Education system.
However, Johnson seems adamant about living up to the designation he earned as no longer having the confidence of the ATA. Here’s how to earn such a designation.
After reviewing all this, it becomes pretty obvious which is more likely. Johnson has a vendetta. No wonder the Alberta Teachers’ Association has lost confidence in him. While Johnson says "we have to stop pointing the fingers at individuals and start talking about the issues," he has shown no interest in discussing class sizes, classroom conditions, bullying or student inequality, which are true issues in Alberta Education, not a fabrication of a non-existent problem in teacher discipline.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. The people who interact with their children every day are having their profession attacked on a daily basis by someone in power who seems to have a vendetta. That profession is under threats of being dismantled, and the powers that be are not talking about the things that truly affect their children. Yup, parents should be freaking out right about now.
This weekend will be bittersweet for me, and for many in High River.
Tomorrow we begin the celebration of Graduation for many students here. I am very proud of our students who have braved this past 12 months to get this far. However, to see our youth go away reminds me how lovely it would be to see them come back, and even more, to stay.
Notre Dame Collegiate Grads in particular have my respect. They put up with far more than most other graduating classes in Alberta. They started their year late. When they did finally start, there were only two classrooms available to them in a borrowed building. Unfortunately for them, they were not joined by their friends in the younger grades for another week, and in some cases, more. Students didn't have lockers, and so for Grads they would carry their 35 pounds of textbooks throughout the day on their backs. No cafeteria. No gathering space to hang out with friends. After school programs like sports and music were either cancelled or put on hold in hopes of a quick return to the original Notre Dame Collegiate. Some programs didn't come back. Yet the students still hit the books and made the best of it, because after all, they were alive. A Me To We celebration at the end of September reminded the students of just how strong we are together.
When the rest of the grades finally joined them, classroom space was at a premium for both our host school and our own, so Notre Dame Collegiate had to run eight classes at a time in the gymnasium, while other classes crowded into every nook and cranny possible in that structure. The band program hoofed it two blocks away to the nearby Masonic Lodge, which was also experiencing a space crunch accommodating as many as 12 groups at one time with only three useable spaces. With the only gymnasium taken up, a school bus sat on standby at all times to take kids to the community RecPlex, but then again every other community group was fighting for space, and having three schools vying along with those community groups for time, that made things all the more challenging. So when the RecPlex wasn't available, students would be bussed to Blackie, 25 minutes away.
All the while, each and every High River family was having their own battles at home, if they had a home. Some were trying to finish the cleanup. Some were trying to start the cleanup. Some were trying to get insurance, Disaster Recovery Program, or anybody they could to help them recover. Some were just happy to have a roof over their heads, even if it was an ATCO trailer in Saddlebrook. Some were losing their jobs or clients because they were flooded away. Some were fighting to keep their businesses open. Some were simply battling on their neighbours behalf, hoping to keep the community together.
Glimmers of light shone on the students from time to time. If families couldn't afford school materials, they could get a backpack from the Parent Link Centre in town. Various donations trickled in from various locations. Opportunities like bringing a huge group of kids to the set of Heartland were welcomed. The most brilliant light in the fog was the host we had, for Ecole Senator Riley School very quickly became not only a neighbour and host, but friends who were there when they were needed. Friends we will never forget.
After a few weeks, camera crews, people in suits and ties, and photo opportunities started to grate on students' nerves. Politicians, many of whom had never set foot in the original Notre Dame Collegiate, came out in droves. Occasionally a student got their 15 minutes of fame, but even then some students would turn down the opportunity because they were just tired of it all, and wanted to get back to normal. Normal would never come.
All the while, Grads counted down to the projected arrival of the portable classrooms, only to have their hopes and deadlines dashed not once, not twice, but thrice. It's hard to concentrate on your classwork when you're not even certain of what your classroom space is going to look like from one day to the next. In October some of the portables finally opened up. Some classes moved in. Some stayed in the gymnasium and Masonic Lodge. The shuttles to the RecPlex and Blackie continued. In late October, the gymnasium and the Masonic Lodge were no longer used, and the shuttles to the RecPlex or Blackie became less constant.
Our community seemed to suffer blow after blow. In November our Filipino community was struck by another disaster, a typhoon that hit their families back in their home country. With a huge cohort of Filipinos in the school, for many it brought back the tragedy we recently experienced, and our community gathered around our Tagalog- and Visayan-speaking friends, including many of our Grads. Our elementary school remained in an untenable position running an over-capacity school in an even smaller Memorial Centre, where classrooms had to be torn down nightly for other community events. All we wanted to do was help, but when we are in need of help ourselves, feelings of helplessness can set in. For some, they had to leave, and in a community such as ours, any loss gets mourned.
Christmas was a much needed break. When we returned, our elementary friends all were in their portable school, and the end was in sight. Preparations for Grad celebrations were well underway, and the first sighs of relief came as the Grads completed their first sets of diploma exams. They had made it through the toughest part of the year. The school bid adieu to our hosts at Senator Riley, who said goodbye to us in a grand procession out our temporary front doors, and although they were likely happy to have the full capacity of their building back, hugs, tears and cheers for each other were still exchanged.
After the teacher professional development break, students came back to another press field day, but it would also be the last. However, the school they came back to was still far from finished. Grads found themselves in borrowed class spaces again, as small gathering areas became classrooms for displaced teachers. Busses continued to travel, but mostly only to the RecPlex. The Public Address system in the school didn't work, phones weren't connected, there was no place to eat lunch, and many classrooms didn't even have whiteboards yet. Nonetheless, they were in a building, it smelled new, it had a few upgrades already completed and a few more on the way, and most importantly, it was home.
In the back field of our refurbished home sat our elementary school in 26 portable classrooms. Very quickly our two schools got a chance to work together, which was a novelty as the original location (which sat underwater for 2 months after the flood) was too far away to really develop any sort of connection with. Grads were often found working with elementary students, and the two schools became closer than they have ever been since the elementary school was built. While challenges still continue, which should be expected when 750 students have to share a single gymnasium, the comraderie in the Catholic community coagulated, and new opportunities were born.
Though the Grads have moved through trial into opportunity within the school context, some still continue to battle issues at home. Many are still rebuilding homes. Some have just moved back home from the temporary housing, and thankfully only a few remain in Saddlebrook. Some businesses have recovered, some remain in temporary structures, some are going further and further into debt hoping that critical point where they have to close their doors forever never comes. For some, it has already come and gone.
This is why I believe there are few graduating classes that deserve a celebration as much as Notre Dame Collegiate's Grads this year. They fought through it all. They faced challenge at home, at school, in their minds, their bodies and in their souls. And they stood tall and strong. They are some of the best examples of what it means to be a High Riverite.
This is also what makes me somewhat sad. It is likely that many of them are leaving, be it for post-secondary or simply to find work where it's available and stable. High River's loss will be the rest of the world's gain. But I hope that High River recovers in such a way that these beacon's of our future choose to return home, live, grow families here, build a community here, and remain.
To these amazing human beings who, as the youngest of adults, have faced some of the most incredible challenges imaginable, I hope these remain the most incredible challenges you will ever face for the rest of your life. I hope that you are aware just how powerful you are, and that you never falter in the steps you take forward. You have no need for a lack of confidence; if you could manage this year, you've got an amazing potential ahead of you. I pray that as you move forward, wherever you go, you take the lessons you have learned here and share your power, strength, resolve and potential to make everything you touch better. But most importantly, I pray you come back to High River, because you indeed are our future, and you are needed.
And even if you don't come back to High River to stay, you had better visit!