A Pop Quiz

Ms Soapbox is shocked.

She just returned from the Alberta Teachers’ Association Summer Summit on Public Education and discovered that she knows far less about education and teaching in Alberta than she thought she did.


What education looks like today

So pop quiz!  (Stop grumbling, many politicians are pontificating about the state of education in Alberta with far less information than you have).

Question 1:  The Alberta Teacher’s Association is:

  1. A partisan group pushing the NDP’s social engineering agenda
  2. A bunch of teachers flogging the latest fads in education
  3. Nothing more than a teachers’ union
  4. A nonpartisan group that encourages its members as individuals to be politically engaged

Answer: 4.  The ATA was created by the Teaching Profession Act after William (Bible Bill) Aberhart came to power with the Social Credit party.  Every public and Catholic school teacher belongs to the ATA.  Its mandate is to advance education, improve the profession and increase public interest.  It has performed this duty under the SoCreds, the PCs and now the NDP.  Its power to bargain on behalf of teachers comes from the Public Education Bargaining Act.   

Question 2:  The ATA allocates what percentage of its budget to union activities?

  1. 90%
  2. 50%
  3. 30%
  4. 10%

Answer: Surprise!  The ATA allocates 10% of its budget to union activities.  Ninety percent of the budget is used to advance the profession, improve recruitment into education, improve teachers’ competence, advise and discipline teachers, assess competence, increase public awareness, and work with national and international organizations with similar objectives.     

Question 3:  Who is the teacher’s boss?

  1. The principal
  2. The School Board (Trustees)
  3. The School Superintendent
  4. The ATA
  5. None of the above

Answer: This is a trick question.  Teachers work in a collegial setting, they don’t have ONE boss.  It’s the principal’s job to ensure a teacher is meeting professional standards, but complaints brought by parents or others about a teacher’s competence go to the Superintendent and may result in a Competence Review; complaints about a teacher’s conduct go to the ATA and may result in a Conduct Review before a discipline committee. 

Question 4: The ATA always provides representation to teachers undergoing a competence or conduct review:  

  1. True
  2. False

Answer:  False.  The ATA provides representation for teachers in a Competence Review (eg the teacher consistently fails to show up for class, doesn’t teach to the curriculum) but never provides representation for teachers in a Conduct Review (eg the teacher has an inappropriate relationship with a student, gets caught drunk driving or pole dancing at the local pub).  The ATA’s advice in a Conduct Review is: tell the truth and consider getting a good lawyer.   

Question 5: The biggest challenge facing students in Alberta is: 

  1. Social media (distraction, anxiety, depression, digital addiction)
  2. Overcrowded classrooms
  3. Lack of preparation for the jobs of the future
  4. Crabby teachers
  5. Helicopter parents

Answer:  The ATA has identified 1, 2, and 3 as some of the many challenges that must be addressed if Alberta’s students are to succeed in the 21st century. Crabby teachers and helicopter parents are irritating but not as serious as the first three.

Bonus question:  The Curriculum Redesign is a secret activity that will:

  1. Undermine parental authority
  2. Be riddled with politically correct themes like colonialism, oppression, and climate change
  3. Prevent schools from teaching military history including Canada’s participation in two world wars
  4. None of the above

Answer:  4.  The government typically undergoes a curriculum review once every seven years, however past conservative governments slowed down the review cycle to avoid costs.  Programs such as fine arts have not been updated for 30 years.   

The review process creates a conceptual outline that becomes more concrete through the efforts of a working group made up of teachers, specialists including university profs and others.  The process includes public consultation and the final result should not be a surprise to anyone. 

The politicization of the process by (let’s be blunt) opportunistic politicians creates distrust in the very people who are in the best position to educate our children.  Hardly an appropriate outcome for someone professing to have the best interests of the students at heart.    

How did you do?

This isn’t about getting 75% of the questions right and earning a gold star.  It’s about deepening your understanding of education and educators in Alberta.

Talk to a teacher, call a member of the ATA.  You’ll find it far more enlightening than the rants of a politician who hasn’t set foot in a classroom since the collapse of the USSR.


My thanks to Jonathan Teghtmeyer and the ATA for inviting a group of MLAs, school trustees, and others including Ms Soapbox to the Summer Summit.  We learned a lot!

NOTE:  The reference to social studies as an outdated program has been corrected.  Thank you to the readers who caught the error.  

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13 Responses to A Pop Quiz

  1. jerrymacgp says:

    I’m sure you found the event enlightening, but as a member of a regulated health profession, I do have some discomfort with the ATA’s status as a triad entity: professional regulator, professional association, and collective bargaining agent. Regulators and professional associations in health care professions were divested of their collective bargaining functions in the late 1970s, after a Supreme Court decision arising out of Saskatchewan. The rationale for this was, essentially, that since both unionized and management employees in the same profession were all members, the organization could not fairly represent unionized members.

    Why have the teachers, virtually alone among professionals in the public sector, been allowed to keep those three functions under one organization?

    • Douglas Taylor says:

      Ask your former PeeCee overlords why the Public Education Act was put into place. As to the “virtually alone” bit, you haven’t been keeping up with last week’s news about the dental profession College and Association ( all the same organization). And of the 28+ professions in Alberta, I don’t buy the “virtually alone” bit.

      • Jerry and Douglas one of the speakers noted that Alberta is different from some of the other provinces in that the legislation governing the ATA allows it to be both a professional association and a union. Given that the ATA is a creature of statute an incoming government could change its structure by amending the legislation, however I expect they’d be in for a fight because the ATA and the teachers I talked to (admittedly a small sample) seemed to be comfortable with the existing structure.

  2. Brent McFadyen says:

    What a pleasant interlude from politics. That was a beautiful description of the ATA and the good they do .

    • Brent, it was a politics-free weekend except at the very end when a trustee asked the MLAs in attendance why the curriculum rewrite had become so politicized. One UCP MLA said she’d been misquoted about wanting to disclose the names of the working committee and we should trust the teachers to get it right. Another UCP MLA said social media spins things out of control but he’d take what he’d learned back to his colleagues. The most honest answer came from an MLA I talked to over coffee. He said it was political opportunism. Time will tell whether the UCP MLAs were sincere in their commitment to take what they learned back to their party, and more importantly t0 the UCP politicians running for the leadership of the party. As my mom used to say: the proof is in the pudding. (Actually she said something in Hungarian that means the same thing).

  3. heatherr says:

    The Social Studies curriculum was actually last updated between 2005-2008. Yes, some other programs of study haven’t been reviewed in a dog’s age (Art, English Language Arts, for starters); however, even in the case of old programs, MOST teachers adjust curriculum outcomes to reflect current practices, and try to make it relatable and relevant to students. We have an enormous amount of flexibility and latitude for interpreting the provincial documents. Thanks for being open to learning more about the professional association, though.

    • Thanks for the clarification heatherr. Your comments about teachers’ flexibility are well taken. One thing that came out loud and clear during the conference was that the Min of Education decides what should be taught but it’s the teachers who use their education and experience to decide how it will be taught. We need to trust teachers and let them do the jobs they’ve been trained for.

  4. GoinFawr says:

    “One form of public speaking not usually in recognized as such is teaching. I’ve had a few experiences in educational situations and they’ve been worse than flies crawling over my face. I don’t know if it’s me or what, but having to speak to college students is like having to address a crowd of work-shirking entitlement robots whose only passion, aside from making excuses as to why they didn’t do their assignments, is lying in wait, ready to pounce on the tiniest of PC infractions. You can’t pay teachers enough to do what they do. Having been in their shoes, even briefly, has converted me into an education advocate. Double all teaching salaries now.” – Douglas Coupland

  5. GoinFawr: I don’t know that all college students are “work-shirking entitlement robots”, but two of the most unsettling experiences I’ve had were at the front of a class room. I was a TA in a first year anthropology course. Some of the students took anthro because they liked it, the rest were looking for a bird course and couldn’t care less. It was excruciating. The second experience was when I was a teaching assistant at a junior high. The teacher had a dental appointment and called me in to cover his class for an hour. I walked into the class and found an obscenity scrawled on the blackboard. I told them to erase it. They stared at me; I stared at them and finally someone wiped it off. Thank god, because I had no Plan B.
    Teachers are very underappreciated!

  6. Adam E says:

    I can say with authority that as a “Canadian History Teacher,” the curriculum for this subject (and geography, etc.), haven’t been updated since Peter Lougheed was premier. Same was true for religion until last year.

    Anybody is free to check them out by looking for Alberta programs of study.

    • Thanks Adam. Your comment on the outdated history curriculum is particularly important given the attacks launched by the media and politicians on any and all efforts to update the curriculum. Jonathan Teghtmeyer of the ATA wrote an editorial in July 2017 in response to a column written by David Staples entitled “New Social Studies curriculum pushes social change, not history”. Staples argues that the curriculum review is nothing more than an exercise in “social engineering”. He supports this proposition by pointing out the draft curriculum review document uses the word “change” 24 times but “history” only once. Teghtmeyer points out that Staples failed to mention words like “historic” and “historical” which appeared 46 times.
      All this made me wonder how the ATA got drawn into a debate about the quality of the social studies curriculum based on word count.
      This is another reason why the public needs to hear from people like you who can enlighten us on what kids are being taught and how long it’s been since the curriculum has been updated.
      Here’s the link to the Teghtmeyer article: https://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20News/Volume-51-2016-17/Number-19/Pages/Social-studies-gripes-dripping-in-irony.aspx

      • jerrymacgp says:

        David Staples drives me bananas. He pontificates in high dudgeon about the state of our public education system, as though he were some sort of authority and in complete opposition to evidence-based best practices. I’m just glad he hasn’t turned his uninformed attention to my profession (nursing).

        Education is a profession, informed by research and evidence, practiced by dedicated professionals who put up with a lot of crap from both their “clients” (meaning students) and parents, not to mention such blowhards as Staples, Jean and Kenney. You couldn’t pay me enough to do their job … and mine has often involved cleaning up feces.

  7. Jerry, education is indeed a profession…which has been politicized for decades. Jason Stanley, the Yale philosopher, in his book How Propaganda Works describes the furor that erupted in the USA when UCLA historians attempted to update the social studies curriculum in 1994. Lynne Cheney (Dick’s wife) denounced the curriculum update in a Wall Street Journal op-ed because it attempted to introduce “multiple perspectives” and was overly influenced by African-American and Native-American groups. Jason Stanley says what Cheney was really arguing for was a “single unified perspective” which would convey a capitalist value system and reflect the perspective of the highly privileged group, not the negatively privileged groups.

    Funny how we’re hearing exactly the same criticism from the UCP 23 years later.

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