ATA News

Conventions never fail to impress


By the time you read this, most of the teachers’ conventions will be finished or very close to it. However, as of this writing, the only convention that has occurred is the North Central Teachers’ Convention, the convention I attended myself as a teacher.

Attending my first convention back in 1993 as a new teacher living and teaching 450 kilometres away from Edmonton, I was surprised to learn that we were not only expected to attend, we were also expected to pay our own way. Meals, gas, hotel — all were part of our professional responsibility as teachers. We would pile four people to a car, drive to Edmonton after school let out and check into the most economical hotel we could find that was close to downtown and didn’t look too seedy.

It was an expense that I hadn’t really budgeted for. In later years, thanks to tenacious bargaining, we got half a day to travel so we could arrive in Edmonton at a decent hour, and our board agreed to take $100 off of our cheques from October to January and then give it back to us to help pay for convention expenses. (Yes, we knew they were paying us with our own money, but it helped.) If I am making this sound like quite the ordeal, it was. It was also some of the best learning I have ever experienced. 

During the car rides to convention, we would all be looking at our booklets trying to narrow down what session we were going to attend. We talked about past conventions, and we talked about what was happening in our classrooms. During those car rides I learned about my colleagues — their histories, their families, their fears and their dreams. I learned which books I should be reading and who had a great lesson plan they would share. I learned where the secret stash of Sharpies was kept and how to convince the maintenance man that my classroom really wasn’t the temperature that showed on the thermostat. 

At convention, we pooled our classroom budgets to buy class sets of novels that we could share. We looked at resources and yes, we shopped. I bought many a book bag while at teachers’ convention, a couple of which I still use today. We attended our preferred sessions and got angry when the one we wanted was full, but that sometimes meant we went to a session that we hadn’t planned on that ended up being incredibly useful. We saw teachers from other divisions who we saw only once a year, and we went out to supper with our friends and colleagues.

On our trip back we would talk about who we had seen and what we had learned. We talked about how we were going to use what we had learned on Monday morning. We debated some ideas: would they really work in a real classroom, or was this some idea that sounded good but wasn’t practical? I was so lucky to attend teachers’ convention with my colleagues, some who were new like me and some who were veteran teachers. I learned from them all. 

After I joined ATA staff, I attended every convention in the province for many years as part of my communications role. One thing I learned is that no two conventions are the same. This year I will attend six of the nine conventions across this province, and at each one I will learn something new. For me it never gets old, it never gets stale, it never fails to excite and impress me. And when I think about the fact that these nine conventions are all organized by teachers — teachers who work all day doing one of the hardest jobs there is and then attend meetings in the evening and on weekends, giving up their time to plan the professional development for their colleagues — I don’t know of any other organization that could pull this off. 

So thank you to all of you who help to make these days as memorable as they are. Thank you. Due to a shift in my responsibilities, this is the last year that I will be traipsing all over the province with the ATA president to attend teacher conventions. I can tell you I am going to enjoy each and every moment, and I may just buy myself a new book bag.

Shelley Magnusson

ATA News Interim Editor-in-Chief

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