Teachers of Alberta, this has been a very tumultuous week for you during an already very busy time of year. Instead of rallying every last bit of energy you have to push through this final week of school after quite possibly the most difficult school year you’ve had yet, you are being thrown into the middle of a conflict between your professional Association and our Government – one that has reached new levels by the announcement last week when Education Minister LaGrange announced her plans to change how teacher discipline is handled in our province. This has been widely covered on CBC, Global , CTV and many other major news outlets. However, have you stopped to consider that there just might be more to this story than you are being told? It is our hope that by creating a space where you can easily access the information all in one place, that you will be able to become informed and make your own opinions.
Not surprisingly, after the Minister’s announcement, there was an immediate response from the ATA, by the Executive Secretary, Dennis Theobald. He stated that the ATA did its job in the Michael Gregory Matter and when he highlighted the ATA’s support of Bill 85 – the Students First Act; going as far as to share this image on their own social media accounts:
While this post from ATA was clearly made as an attempt to shift the blame to the government from themselves for not reporting Gregory’s actions to the proper authorities, it only proves that the recommendations for suspension of Gregory’s professional teaching certificate were received and carried out by the Education Minister at the time. What it doesn’t explain is why the ATA investigator didn’t report Gregory’s misconduct to authorities immediately after learning of it during the course of their investigation.
The ATA stated that the RCMP were aware of concerns relating to Gregory. Were they aware because either the student or parent of the student disclosed this in the course of the investigation or did they learn this when they went to the RCMP themselves to report their findings? Where is the evidence that they did their due diligence and reported Gregory’s abuse to the RCMP? Do they not have a duty to report like teachers do in their Professional Code of Conduct?
President Schilling very clearly stated his position in the ATA Media Availability video that was also shared via the Association’s social media pages and made it very clear that teachers will not be intimidated by the Education Minister, however, we have yet to find a source that demonstrates she was attempting to intimidate teachers. President Schilling has called the Minister’s plan to change how teacher discipline is handled in our province as “an attempt to fracture our profession” and has repeatedly called this “an attack on teachers”, where in actual fact, this is directed at The Alberta Teachers Association and not Alberta teachers themselves. This is directed at the way the Alberta Teachers Association handles teacher discipline. President Schilling is calling teachers to “prepare for battle” and creating a sense of fear by stirring up a host of feelings that are already at the surface for the majority of teachers concerning the proposed (and recently amended) new curriculum and the government’s COVID response. He is intentionally putting teachers in a position where they feel like they should be on the defense, however, shouldn’t it be the Association that is on the defense? Teachers do not have to defend themselves when it is the Association that is being accused of not being able to handle teacher discipline properly. And just for the record, instead of “preparing for battle” we prefer to see this as an opportunity to use words like advocate, collaborate, share research and statistics, brainstorm, troubleshoot, and defend.
When the Education Minister first announced that she would be introducing Bill 85: The Students First Act, aimed to create more transparency in the reporting of teacher unprofessional conduct by creating an online system where the public will be able to access findings of teacher discipline investigations or hearings with greater ease, the ATA immediately responded. The Association has stated that “the public should have confidence and that matters related to teacher conduct have been handled effectively and appropriately by the Association” and it goes without saying that these messages have likely been directed towards its members as well. So, I ask this question, why have we seen many teachers over years suffer because of flaws in this discipline process? Why are there so many teachers left feeling as though their own professional Association had failed them by imposing penalties and membership suspensions that didn’t even come close to being representative of the damages that were caused?
While you likely have never heard the stories of your colleagues who may have had either direct or indirect experience with the discipline process because your professional code of conduct prohibits them from telling their stories because for them to tell those stories would be viewed as unprofessional, I have heard these stories first-hand, time and time again. The current ATA policies and procedures have created an environment that makes teachers fearful of coming forward, which in itself is a serious flaw. This terrible and unjust flaw not only isolates, silences and/or oppresses teachers’ voices and paralyzes the opportunity for any potential for peer support. It also enables the teachers who have demonstrated unprofessional conduct to continue to cause trauma to both school staff and students.
President Schilling is spinning this most recent announcement as a “sudden attack” at a time when teachers are most vulnerable, when in fact, the Association has been under scrutiny for years, as demonstrated in the articles below:
- Education Minister Overrules Teachers’ Union on Disciplinary Matters (2014)
- Education Minister Orders Permanent Ban for Teacher Accused of Touching Students, Overruling Union Decision (2019)
- ATA Slams Minister’s Plan to Review Past Teacher Discipline Decisions (2019)
- ATA and Education Minister Clash Over Removal of Teacher Discipline Abilities (2021)
The desire for our government to change teacher discipline practices is not the opportunistic recent attack that it is being spun as. This has been happening for years.
Now, let’s think logically about this. There has to be a reason that several different Education Ministers, under several different governments, the way that teacher discipline is being handled in our province has been on their radar. It is also clear with this information, that over time, they have had continued cause for concern. In fact, previous Education Minister, Jeff Johnson, who was at the centre of this situation in 2014 when he overruled penalties assigned by the ATA, even recently just spoke out and again shared his view that there is a definite need for Education reform.
Not surprisingly, the ATA’s Jonathan Teghtmeyer was quick to directly attempt to silence his voice. And while yes, there was some misinformation shared regarding the ATA processes, we would just like to ask you about one of Teghtmeyers’s facts; have you ever tried to attend a “public” unprofessional conduct hearing with the ATA? Is there anywhere where you can go to look up which teachers are being investigation to know which hearings are happening so that you could ask to attend them? Do you know when they are being held? It’s pretty hard to ask to access a hearing if there is no way of knowing it is even being investigated.
Through the work we have done with teachers across the province, we can certainly affirm that the teachers who come to see us are very concerned with the way teacher discipline is handled in our province. The current discipline process has failed so many of the teachers that we work with, which only further demonstrates a need to update and revise the current teacher discipline practices.
Teachers, having your Association tell you that they are doing their job and that you should blindly support them is not enough. If a parent were to question any one of you about the grades that their child received on their most recent report card, do you think that they would just blindly accept that and “should have confidence that it was handled effectively and appropriately”? Don’t most parents want evidence? We can guarantee that they would and so should you! We know that as professionals you would provide them with the evidence. You would share their formative and summative assessments, anecdotal records and notes, and you would share your observations combined with your professional judgement – all in an effort to prove and demonstrate how you determined the mark they achieved.
We are calling on every teacher in Alberta to do the same – inform yourselves of the situation, just as your Association did when they asked you to read their responses to the Minister’s announcement. Use the links we have provided below to understand how teacher discipline is handled in other provinces. Read the articles about other provinces who are also following suit of the provinces whose discipline investigations are handled by a separate entity. Compare how discipline is handled and how information is shared for other professions like our doctors, nurses, and social workers to name a few.
Most importantly, become familiar with how your Association reports on how they have been handling teacher discipline in years past. Take a look into the Associations past annual reports and look closely at both the details they contain and the way that they are reporting on the unprofessional conduct of its Members. Ask yourself if this demonstrates that teacher unprofessional conduct is handled efficiently and effectively. Make an informed decision, that’s all we ask. You have an opportunity here that may not come around again, not for a long time.
Lastly, you need to call on your Association to prove to all of you why should have confidence in their ability to handle teacher conduct and discipline “effectively and appropriately”. The ATA says that these are all matters of public record, so demand that they make these records public, just like the professional organizations linked below. This is what accountability and protection is all about. When the ATA states that hearings are open to the public and professional conduct committee reports are public record but then they create barriers and hoops for people to go through in order to access them, this is not public access. Post them where they can easily be located, just like they are in other provinces and professions.
Release the names of teachers who have been investigated with cases being substantiated and include timelines demonstrating that they were able to address these situations in a timely manner. Release how much teachers, as paying Members of the Association, spend on these investigations each year. More importantly, demonstrate to teachers why they believe that continuing with current ways is more cost effective than having a separate entity foot the bill for these investigations, thus allowing your membership dues to go towards things that could actually benefit teachers and students directly. Demand they share these statistics and be completely and consistently transparent.
Teachers, if you are to have confidence in your Association’s ability to handle teacher discipline, then it is up to your Association to prove it to you.
Consider whether President Schilling’s request to stand at the ready for battle, even though you don’t have all of the information, is enough for you. Consider not only your future, but the future of teachers to come. Consider your colleagues and students and parents of students who have been let down by the current ways that teacher discipline is handled in our province. Inform yourselves and make your own decisions. Your intelligence, wisdom, education, and voice have power. Right now, it is more critical than ever that you use your skills and abilities wisely.
After the ATA has publicly shared this information and has proven that they are capable of handling teacher discipline by imposing fair penalties in a timely manner, then teachers will be able to make an informed decision about how to best prepare for this “battle”. However, if our own research has shown us anything, it is that there are a lot more questions to be asked and a great deal more information needs to be transparently shared before teachers can be expected to do this.
The ATA needs to release the facts so that not only teachers, but also the public, can have true confidence that they are capable of handling teacher discipline effectively and appropriately. If the ATA is strongly confident in their abilities, then they need to make it public and prove it.
Just as we are sure it is true in many aspects of your work, continuing to do something just because it has “always been done that way”, doesn’t serve anyone well. We know all too well that times change and teachers need to adjust and improve their practice to stay current with the changing world around them. The way teacher unprofessional conduct is investigated and reported should be no exception. If other provinces have already moved in this direction, the least teachers can do is to inform themselves and understand both sides of this argument.
Examples of How Teacher Discipline is Handled in Other Provinces
- Ontario College of Teachers Complaints and Discipline
- Ontario College of Teachers Hearing Schedule
- BCTF – Judicial Council Complaints
- Manitoba Teachers’ Society – Move to regulatory body?
Examples of How Unprofessional Conduct Investigations and Discipline is Handled in other Professions
- CARNA – Nurses Hearings, Decisions and other Disciplinary Matters
- CPSA – Physicians Complaints & Discipline Decisions
- ACSW – Social Workers Discipline Decisions
ATA Annual Reports
- 2018 ATA Annual Report (see page 22)
- 2019 ATA Annual Report (see page 23)
- 2020 ATA Annual Report (see page 22)
If you would like to talk, share, or ask questions, call or email us. It is confidential.
Linda Crockett MSW, RSW, SEP, CPPA
Founder, Advocate, Consultant, Trainer, Investigator, Coach, and Therapist