Teacher’s union pans competency review recommendation

A provincial task force has issued 25 recommendations that it suggests will create teaching excellence in Alberta. On Monday, it created teacher anger.

A provincial task force has issued 25 recommendations that it suggests will create teaching excellence in Alberta. On Monday, it created teacher anger.

Mandating regular competency reviews for teachers was the major recommendation in the Task Force for Teaching Excellence that had the province’s largest teachers’ union — the Alberta Teachers’ Association — claiming a “direct assault” on the profession on Monday.

In recommending that the Ministry of Education institute a system where teachers would have to seek certification renewal every five years, the report said a small percentage of educators may be “incompetent or unprofessional,” and that a better system of dealing with such teachers is needed. Red Deer College board of governors chair Shelley Ralston, who served on the 16-member panel, said education is one of the only professions in which a person is certified for life.

“When we asked Albertans, ‘Are you happy with the system that evaluates teachers today, that provides assurance for excellent teaching every day in every classroom?’ the pervasive sentiment was ‘No,’” said Ralston.

“Should certification be given for life and you never have to change? I don’t think any Albertan would (agree) with that.”

Under the proposal, teachers would be expected to have a “growth plan” that incorporates professional development initiatives, to be reviewed regularly by a principal. Every five years, teachers would present a dossier of evidence demonstrating their growth and competency to be reviewed.

The report also calls for standard reviews of teacher conduct and competence to be done by the provincial ministry, not the teachers’ association, which currently reviews such cases. In the last 10 years, the report states, there have been no instances where a teacher’s certificate has been revoked due to incompetence.

“Given the province has over 40,000 teachers, the Task Force found this statistic almost inconceivable,” the report states.

Red Deer teacher and education blogger Joe Bower said the report opens the door to the government going on a “witch hunt” to drive away teachers whose students score low on standardized tests. He said the report is another example of the government dumping on teachers, despite Alberta’s status as a top-performing educational jurisdiction.

“You do not improve any profession by alienating that profession,” said Bower.

He argued that the process of renewing certifications would easily become a bureaucratic mess driving limited funds away from already-full classrooms.

“The most successful education nations in the world diagnose and identify struggling teachers and they support them and help them to get better…. For every time we talk about hunting down bad teachers, we need to talk five times about how we’re going to make great teachers,” said Bower.

But College of Alberta School Superintendents president Larry Jacobs said implementing provincial standards for assuring teacher competence would be a positive step. He said a clear set of criteria showing what “teacher excellence” looks like would benefit educators, principals, school divisions, and the public.

“Sometimes it’s almost unclear in the profession as to what you need to do to stay current of practices and expectations of the society you live in. I think what this has done is said ‘These are the expectations we have for you as a teacher to make sure that you’re current with your instructional strategies, current with all the things you need to do to impact student lives,’” said Jacobs, who is the superintendent of Wolf Creek School Division.

Among the report’s other recommendations are making it easier for individuals with expertise in a certain niche area but not an education degree to be able to teach in a school and removing school principals from the ATA to take away conflicts of interest.

The report also suggests university education programs should look at more than simply grades when it comes to admissions and that education students get more practicum opportunities while in school. The introduction of a mandatory one-year paid internship post-graduation is also recommended.

Julia Rheaume, coordinator of Red Deer College’s middle years collaborative education program, welcomed the recommendations and said the college has already acted on its own to ensure students get more practice time in school classrooms. The attrition rate of early-career teachers is around 25 per cent, and young teachers can find it hard to secure stable jobs, so Rheaume said any extra supports are a good thing.

“I think (the internship recommendation) would make the mentor teachers take their role more seriously and I think it would make people want to hang onto those kids longer and look at it as a long-term investment,” said Rheaume.

Albertans can share their feedback on the report, found on the Alberta Education website, until June 5. Education Minister Jeff Johnson has said that feedback will be reviewed over the summer and legislative changes could follow.