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Alberta must change teacher oversight, minister says

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jun 21, 2014 06:00 am

COFFEE TALK – Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson sat down with the Gazette’s editorial board this week to talk about many issues related to education. <br />Most of the conversation revolved around the last month’s report from the Task Force For Teaching Excellence.
COFFEE TALK – Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson sat down with the Gazette’s editorial board this week to talk about many issues related to education.
Most of the conversation revolved around the last month’s report from the Task Force For Teaching Excellence.
STU SALKELD/St. Albert Gazette

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Alberta must change the way it regulates its teachers to make them more accountable for their conduct, says the province’s education minister.

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson sat down with the Gazette’s editorial board this week to talk about many issues related to education.

Most of the conversation revolved around the last month’s report from the Task Force For Teaching Excellence. If implemented, the report’s 25 recommendations will bring major changes to schools in Alberta.

Johnson said roughly 2,500 people have commented on the report since its release. The province’s Teacher Development and Practice Advisory Committee – which is run in partnership with the ATA – is now reviewing those comments and should make its recommendations to him by July 15.

Johnson would not say which, if any, of the task force’s recommendations he would implement, but said he’s heard a lot of good feedback about its proposals for mandatory internships and a province-wide mentorship program for new teachers.

“There’s actually tremendous quiet support for this report,” he said.

But he would definitely do something about the perceived conflict of interest between the ATA’s role as a teacher’s advocate (as a union) and disciplinarian (as a professional group).

“They are really the only professional group that has everything under one umbrella,” he said, and they have been making disciplinary decisions of which no parent would approve. “We have to improve that system.”

Controversial proposals

Johnson said he’s overturned about a third of the professional conduct rulings made by the ATA in the last two years. Each of those cases involved sex offences against students or schools defrauded of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The ATA in each case decided to suspend the teachers involved for a few years, but left them with their teaching certificates.

“That’s just absolutely ridiculous,” Johnson said, noting that this would not stop these teachers from teaching at a private or First Nations reserve school. He cancelled their teaching certificates instead.

The task force recommended that the minister of Education take over reviews of professional conduct by teachers completely.

Johnson also argued in favour of the task force’s call to make it easier for non-certified experts to teach in the classroom.

“One of the biggest challenges we have, especially in rural Alberta, is finding people that will teach all of the (career and technology) subjects to kids,” he said.

The Olds school board uses instructors from Olds College to fix this problem, but still needs to have an ATA-certified teacher on hand to supervise those instructors.

“That college professor can teach a teacher to teach in our schools, but he can’t teach in our schools,” Johnson said.

While its important for teachers to know how to teach, Johnson said these subject-matter experts can do good jobs when brought in for specific areas even if they aren’t certified teachers.

“Our teachers are generalists,” he said, which makes them good at teaching but not necessarily good at specific subjects.

Singapore actually limits the number of subjects teachers can teach in order to encourage specialization, he noted.

“We’re too focused on the pedagogy,” he said, referring to teaching techniques.

“I know that one of the solutions to raising our math (scores) is making sure we have people that are really comfortable with math.”

The ATA has vociferously criticized the task force’s recommendations and recently passed a motion saying it had lost confidence in Johnson as Education minister.

But the issues raised by the task force have been around for decades and need to be addressed no matter who holds the minister’s job, Johnson said.

“The issues are not going away.”

Johnson said he will continue to work with the ATA on these issues, and hopes to move on some of the task force’s recommendations this fall.


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