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.
Back in University, I had adopted the slogan “carpe nocht”. Thinking I was being relatively clever with Horace’s quote “carpe diem” and the approach to life the phrase espouses, the idea of seizing the night became more than what I ever thought it would be. You see, it was really just a way of justifying my desire to party all night long.
Little did I know that I would take it up as a mantra, and have it end up being a metaphor for my life.
You see, to me, December 21 is not the longest night of 2013. Sure, scientists will talk to you about the winter solstice, and they’d be right. But other nights in 2013 have been far longer.
The night following my wife’s diagnosis with pericarditis. That was a bloody long night.
The night after we discovered the piano component of the High River and District Lions Music Festival had a significant scheduling flaw, and I had to review and reschedule 250 entries. That was a very long night.
The night I discovered that I was no longer part of a profession that the Alberta Government was willing to negotiate with. That was a very long night.
One of the longest nights of the year was June 20, a night I spent until 2 AM in the Blackie evacuation centre following one of the most significant events in Canadian history, the 2013 flood. What made it longer was the hour and a half drive to my parents’ place in the dark, wondering what Waterworld looked like. And the thing that made it even longer yet … the dreams I finally had once I did get to a safe and warm bed.
The first night sleeping in my bed in my home in dank- and dead-smelling High River thinking about the thousands who still had no idea when they’d be returning home. That was an incredibly long night.
The night after a massive hailstorm that almost wrote off my car trying to convince my boys they were safe in our home. That was a long night.
The night I learned I had no classroom, and realized I wouldn’t for weeks, maybe months. That was a long night.
The night after a meeting with business people in High River where I learned that one of our more prominent businesses was struggling to make even a tenth of their regular income, 5 months after the flood. That was a long night.
No, December 21 is not a long night. Not even after an intense day of Christmas shopping is December 21 a long night. It does not compare to the Dylan Thomas kind of nights that we avoided going gently into this year.
But through my “carpe nocht” philosophy comes one realization; after each one of these nights came a day. Each day brought new rays of sunshine, new hope.
These days came because we wouldn’t go gently into that good night. My wife was very diligent in her recovery from her heart condition. I rescheduled the piano classes and made everything work for the festival. Teachers kept teaching. I helped wherever I could after the flood. My family, and many other families, worked tirelessly to clean up homes so people could return, and others who haven’t yet are still working hard to do the same. I found a hall to teach in while I waited for a classroom. Business people of High River are not hoping for handouts, they are working to return to success. Even our boys got involved in High River's recovery. In each case, we are all working to see a brighter day.
Then, perhaps after we’ve seized the opportunity that night has given us, we can then seize the day.
So, in this season of hope, I look back at 2013 as a very long night. And 2014 is going to be a very bright day. I know this, because it starts with my brother marrying a wonderful young lady, and the beginning of a new life together brings with it hope for the future.
I wish all of you for whom 2013 was a long night to seize the night and the opportunities it presents. Don’t go quietly into it. Then, having seized the opportunities, may the future days be yours to take.
Carpe nocht et carpe diem.
Teachers don't have short memories. Many people think teachers have forgotten that they voted the PCs in. In actual fact, teachers did not vote PCs in, Albertans did. Many people think teachers will forget these most recent contract negotiations come 2016. In actual fact, it will be the only thing we remember.
Last week my local voted on the proposed framework shoved in our faces by Premier Alison Redford. To make sure I met the expectation that we not share the results until today, I haven't posted this until today. Regardless, it was obvious that our local did not buck the trend.
If you read carefully over this Proposed ... pardon me ... Imposed Framework Agreement, it stated that the ATA and the School Boards should work hard to "ratify" the agreement. This leaves us open to significant interpretation. One could argue that to ratify an agreement, all you have to do is recognize it as a legitimate document worthy of consideration. Simply by voting to accept or not to accept it would in effect be a ratification. I asked about this when our local voted, and the ATA representative there said I was not out-to-lunch. My question: "so simply by voting on this, we are ratifying it?" The response: "um, yes."
So the only way to tell Redford, Johnson, and the PCs to shove it was to not vote on it all.
I spoiled my ballot. I refused to vote on an "agreement" that so blatantly removed democracy as an option. As is the norm in Canada these days, the guise of democracy covered up an imposition. This was no "agreement", never has been, and now that we are entering a period of legislated teacher contracts, I would not be surprised if it never will be again.
Tell me it ain't so, that somehow the PCs figured out a way of making me think my democratic duty was best served by not voting!
So now Johnson has introduced legislation telling Boards, the ATA, and Alberta voters to shove it in return. There was never any intention on Johnson's part to "bargain" or "propose" anything. Working with teachers is not an interest of his. Johnson's suggestion that "legislation is the only way" shows an apparent lack of respect for the decades of successful local bargaining this province is used to. It also shows anything but forward thinking. It shows dictatorship, a complete reversal from the democracy we claim to espouse.
But don't you worry, teachers don't have short memories. Teachers will always remember who truly runs the Education system. It isn't Alison Redford, and it certainly isn't Jeff Johnson.
The problem is, until the PCs realize this, it isn't teachers, either.
On Wednesday this week, I was surprised to find out that Premier Alison Redford had made another provincial proposal to teachers for a framework for their contracts. The Provincial Executive Council of the Alberta Teacher's Association has sent it on to locals for consideration. This could mean we'd be entering into another province-wide agreement very shortly.
Two things from this. If it takes the Premier to get involved everytime, such as when Dave Hancock was Education Minister when then Premier Ed Stelmach pitched a 5-year and got it signed, and now with Redford superseding current Education Minister Jeff Johnson, why bother having a Minister of Education at all?
But that's not the biggest thing I get from this. The biggest thing starts from the question "where was the Alberta School Boards Association in all this?" It seems to me they had no idea this was going down at all, trustees were never informed the conversation between the PC government and the ATA was even happening, and one blogger has even wondered why the ASBA even exist in the first place.
That's not deep enough. The ASBA has other purposes, just like the ATA is not simply a bargaining entity. However, trustees don't have too many other significant duties than good interactions with their teachers. Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well.
Trustees have been sidelined for years now, starting most prominently with Stelmach. When he pitched a 5-year deal, ASBA was concerned then about funding, but much worse, trustees were not given the opportunity to bargain as much for local issues. Some boards didn't even have trustees involved at all, and instead had Employer Bargaining Authorities, like the one that my Board was a part of called the School Boards Employer Bargaining Authority. That means that trustees have been removed from discussing complete contracts with their employees for over 8 years. Some trustees have never even been involved in such discussions at all.
So why do we even have elections for them if they aren't given an opportunity to represent us? Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well. However, if you were to ask Education Minister Jeff Johnson, the only direction required should be "Inspiring Education". So again, why do we even elect trustees at all?
Then I recall some of the recent goings on following the latest provincial election. Evan Berger, appointed (without a competition) to a six-figure post in the Alberta Government, despite being dumped by the electorate for a Wildrose MLA in Pat Stier. A police college that was expected to go into Fort Macleod because those citizens elected a mayor that would make it happen got cancelled. It makes one wonder ... if the PCs are in government, does it matter who we elect?
We want elections to count. We want our voices heard. So we vote for trustees who we think will represent our interests best. We vote for MLAs who we believe will do the same. We vote for mayors who will work to better our communities, but aren't able to anyway because their hands are tied to the Alberta Government's purse-strings. Our elections don't count. Considering our elections come up this October, the fact that who I elect doesn't matter bothers me significantly, because I firmly believe we need trustees who are empowered, and councillors and mayors who aren't going to have to worry about the PC boot falling on them.
If we are to see this change, we need to vote for a party who will make elections count. They'll give your vote an opportunity to work. They'll give trustees, councillors and mayors the opportunity to represent our interests to the better of our community.
Do you know of a party who has made it their platform to get elections to count?
Click here to see the letter in PDF Format.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I would like to thank you for your message, but it does raise some concerns for me. I am concerned about how you collected the email addresses of teachers you sent this letter to. Certainly you sent this to my school board email account which is public domain, but your reference to a “list” of email addresses concerns me, and makes me wonder how you came to get my email address. It suggests that you had access to some unknown database of emails and used it without the consent of the owners of those emails. The suggestion that you are taking ownership of this “list” also concerns me. I know I certainly did not provide any email address to your office for the purposes of this communication, and had I actually been invited to do so, I would not have provided you with my work email address.
However, in the spirit of keeping a constructive and collegial relationship with you, I would like to invite you to continue to communicate with me. I would prefer you use my personal email, so as to separate my political discussions from my professional discussions. I am sending this email using that address. It is my expectation that you develop a new database where permission has been given to you to communicate with teachers as citizens through private emails, and that I am included in that new database. It is also my expectation that my privacy is assured, and that no person other than the Minister of Education (or their representative) uses that database, and by extension, my personal email account.
Aside from my concerns of Privacy, I do have some other concerns I wish to raise with you. First, due to the projected losses in Budget 2013, it seems that every department is looking at cuts, including Education. It is my view that any budget cuts were fully preventable, and that many budget cuts could be deemed unnecessary should the revenue and tax structure of the province be adjusted or changed, but that is for discussion with the Finance Minister.
It has been rumored that the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement is one of those significant programs facing the chopping block. I hope that this is indeed just rumor and nothing more. However, if AISI is cut, many of the province’s best innovations in teaching will disappear with it. If you truly value the innovations we have brought to classrooms around the province (as you suggested in your email to teachers), you will also value the AISI projects, and continue to fund them. If you cut AISI, you are looking at as many as 350 teachers losing their jobs. These teachers were hired specifically for the AISI projects their divisions are undertaking, and therefore have no classrooms waiting for them should their jobs disappear. AISI funding cuts will also remove Professional Development funding for every other teacher in the province as well. You can almost guarantee that with that many teaching jobs lost, remaining teachers will not be allocated time to innovate and improve their practice, and with their Professional Development funds drying up, those innovations may all but cease. This is not the way to encourage our Education system to remain among the best in the world.
Another concern I have is that in your email of December 12, 2013 to board chairs, you seem to be trying to subvert the local bargaining process. Local bargaining participants are the locals of the Alberta Teachers Association and their respective School Boards. The Minister has no role in such negotiations, and to insert yourself into such discussions could easily make it difficult for teachers or School Boards to feel as though you are supportive of that process.
Your suggestion that our province should consider merit-pay for teachers is also troublesome. Being a co-chair of Inspiring Education, where discussions have occurred surrounding incentive pay, you have undoubtedly been exposed to piles of research indicating the ineffective and destructive nature of merit-pay in Education. Mentioning it now inserts questions that have no place in our Education system. It is confusing as to why an Education Minister would do this.
With regards to the prescriptive curriculum, you are absolutely right, it does need to be addressed, but this is old news. Since 2007, your department has been working on updating and improving the Arts Education curriculum. The new curriculum under the original proposal was set to be rolled out this year, and even though your department went back to the drawing board in 2009, it seems as though you are still at that drawing board. It used to be that teachers had significant input into curriculum development, but the reason this curriculum review went back to the drawing board is because they were not involved appropriately in the process. While I agree with your statement that prescriptive curriculum must be reviewed, I would love if that statement were converted into action. The Arts Education curriculum review needs get back underway again in a fully transparent way, so as to avoid having to go back to the drawing board again, and teachers must have significant involvement in the development of the curriculum, as we are the professionals in both Arts Education content and Arts Education pedagogy. In many areas, Arts Education is the reason some of our students come to school. The Arts breathe of life, culture, character, peace and community; all the things in the “unwritten curriculum”. We need an Arts Education curriculum that provides the time, space and opportunity to explore these aspects of our society and our students’ lives. By extension, we need our Education Ministry to set curriculum and resource development as a priority to ensure that such a curriculum exists.
I can understand your frustration with the fact that tripartite agreements broke down in November of 2012. I am quite frustrated with this too. It seems to me that the ATA proposal was more than reasonable, and considering the pinch you are currently experiencing with a poor projection of Budget 2013, a 0% raise this year and next would look rather favorable (especially when looked at through the lens of our previous contract, which would have teachers receiving an approximately 4% raise this year alone). However, with the concerns I’ve already mentioned it is understandable how a person can have a difficult time taking you at your word. You explain that you would like to try to reduce low-importance administrative tasks to deal with teacher workload, but it is hard to believe that will actually happen. I hope you can understand that, from my perspective, hard caps on time is a perfectly reasonable trade-off for not having to worry about your budget in a time when you have to consider cuts.
However, none of that matters now, as we are in local bargaining, where you can almost be guaranteed that hard caps will be discussed, and so will raises. As such, your involvement in the bargaining process is not appropriate, no matter how frustrated you are with the past.
I would prefer to work constructively with you. To that end I ask that you remove yourself completely from the local bargaining process, giving the School Boards the autonomy they have earned through the electoral process, and giving teachers the opportunity to focus on classroom conditions, not politics. I also ask that you review any consideration you have given to cutting AISI funding, and really evaluate AISI’s long-term benefits. Lastly, I ask that you re-double or re-triple efforts to improving the curriculum of all Arts Education. I would be happy to provide you with input at each of step of these processes.