Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alberta parents should be freaking out

This is written by Joel Windsor who is a public school teacher in High River, Alberta, Canada. Joel blogs here and tweets here. This post was originally found here.

by Joel Windsor

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.
  • Insert yourself into negotiations when you don’t even sign the contracts.
  • Breach teacher privacy by collecting private emails and using them for governmental purposes.
  • Make significant cuts to distance education programs.
  • Commission a taskforce on teaching excellence without talking to the professional body of teachers.
  • Handpick the members. Make sure one of the individuals on the “blue-ribbon panel” is someone you worked before with Xerox, and another person isn’t even in Education, but rather in Forestry.
  • Ensure a large portion of the panel includes PC MLAs, but don’t commit them to doing much work with it until towards the end of the process, where they can insert party ideals.
  • Don’t announce the existence of the group until months after it has already started, so that the professional body of teachers has no opportunity to get involved.
  • Make sure it is not based in research, but only in the collection of opinions. The opinions can be collected by a sole-sourced contractor.
  • Call it a “fiercely independent” panel, but in as discreet a manner possible meet with the chair of the panel regularly to ensure the accomplishment of certain objectives.
  • Early in the process, have the panel meet with the professional body of the teachers, promise meetings for consultation to get them to stop whining about not being involved, but then never meet.
  • Do not consult the professional body of teachers about recommendations to split the professional body of teachers.
  • Do not consult the professional body of teachers about recommendations that suggest the professional body of teachers cannot regulate itself.
  • When you release it, release it to the media under the strict instruction that the media not get input from teachers. Don’t tell the professional body of teachers about the details of the report until the last possible second to ensure they are caught unprepared.
  • Force contracts on teachers and Boards in such a way that Boards choose not to bargain at all, opting to do nothing and simply let an arbitrator decide, ruining local relationships between trustees and teachers.
  • Suggest that while the professional body of teachers represents only teachers, you represent students, even though students can’t vote, and you’ve never taught a class.
  • Overrule a disciplinary decision by the professional body of teachers that effectively cancels the offender’s ability to teach by making a spectacle of canceling that offender’s ability to teach. Suggest the professional body of teachers were not being transparent enough, downplaying the facts that the process is open to the public, involves legal counsel, and that decisions are shared amongst the profession.
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.

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