ATA News

Rally attracts thousands

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The weather was cool and damp but the mood was warm and lively as an estimated 5,000-plus people descended on the Alberta legislature on Oct. 22 to express their support for public education.

In the hours leading up to the rally, a steady stream of buses dropped off teachers from all over the province, volunteers handed out scarves and the band Melafrique created a lively vibe with its blend of R&B, reggae and soul. With the temperature hovering a few degrees above the freezing mark, poet Ahmed Ali Knowmadic energized the growing crowd through boisterous turns at the microphone.

By the time the 1 o’clock program began, the city block-sized plaza in front of the legislature steps was a sea of faces, signs and red scarves bearing the slogan Stand for Public Education.

What followed was an hour-long program featuring a variety of speakers advocating the importance of public education and the need to impress this importance on any and all candidates who run for office in the next election. 

Each speech was interspersed with regular roars of approval and sign waving from the crowd, which embodied a blend of concern and enthusiasm.

ATA president Jason Schilling rounded out the lineup of speakers with an impassioned plea for

  • smaller class sizes;
  • modern, diverse, forward-thinking curriculum;
  • comprehensive school plan that addresses complex needs of students;
  • funding that supports students’ needs;
  • for teachers to be listened to; and
  • for public education to be seen as an investment.

After the rally, Schilling said the event accomplished its mission.

“I am so pleased with the turnout, the positive messages delivered by all the speakers, and the energy embodied by the thousands who gathered,” he said. “We wanted to create a sense of solidarity around the importance of public education and to generate momentum to ensure that education is a top issue leading into next spring’s election.” ❚ 

Photos by Yuet Chan and Cory Hare.

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Noah Simon, known as Chubby Cree, performs a traditional Indigenous song accompanied by his grandmother Carol Powder.  

Why did you attend the rally and what message do you hope it sends?

It seems to be getting more and more challenging. We need to work together so that our kids have a good future.” 
– Angela Bell, Weinlos School, Edmonton

I like the fact that it’s more than just educators here ... it’s nice to come and be surrounded by people who actually care about what it is that you’re doing ... and they do support you in your classroom and you know that you’re not alone and your voice is being heard.”
– Brennan Bell, Shauna May Seneca School, Edmonton

I just think that teachers are getting overworked, and it seems like we’re moving away from a system that values education. It just seems like there’s so much ignorance and so many people without a clue about what’s going on, so I’m here. I care.”
– Bruce Plante, retired teacher

We really need to look at class sizes and support within the schools, especially in the elementary schools for those kiddos who have those complex needs. I’ve noticed in the last five years or so, those complex needs kiddos, there’s more of them coming through the elementary system and we just don’t have the support to give them what they need, and they’re not entering a specialized program until they’re in Grade 4.

“When you’ve got a class of 38 in Grade 1 and a child with severe needs ... I’m a special needs teacher so it’s near and dear to my heart.”
– Susie Baker, teacher, Ranchlands School, Calgary

I believe the current government has cut back way too much in the education funding. I think that educating our young ones is the best way to ensure that we have a prosperous future. I’m a big fan of educating everyone as much as possible.”
– Charles Baker, Alberta resident (married to a teacher)

Just excited to be here to support public education.” 
– Michelle Wirstiuk, Aurora Elementary School, Drayton Valley

And excited to see the unity of people coming together to do this from all over the province.”
– Tracy Solomon, Aurora Elementary School, Drayton Valley

We’re seeing students who are academically further behind than they might have been a few years prior to Covid. Without the funding and without the extra support in the classroom that we’re not getting, that’s a huge concern right now.  There’s only one of us in the classroom trying to help all of the students and logistically it’s just not feasible.
– Caitlin Campbell, Cooper’s Crossing School, Airdrie

I want to raise awareness of everything that’s been going on for us. The government’s been really hard on us and I want them to be aware of that. The new curriculum was really hard on us. We didn’t have any resources given to us – it’s hard to develop that on our own — and they’re cutting funding.”
– Devon Tracey, École Routhier School, Falher

I came here today because I want to defend public education ... and the highest standards of education, an education system where teachers play a very important role, where teachers are taken care of, where the teaching conditions are good and up to date and a system where parents and teachers are involved in students’ personal development.”
– Georges Pigoue, École de la Rose sauvage, Calgary


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Rollie Pemberton recites his poem “The Garden,” which he originally wrote as part of the ATA’s 100th anniversary commemoration in 2018.  

Speakers’ Notes


Carla Peck
University of Alberta education professor, rally host

Citizens, in other words, all of you, public education has the potential to be the great equalizer in society. It can level the playing field to ensure all children, no matter what their circumstances, can thrive and create the future they want. But it can only do this if we stand for public education and tell whichever government is in power that it must properly fund it, and must protect it. 

We also need you to protect public education by making it a priority in the next provincial election. We need you to get involved in the democratic process by asking every candidate that knocks on your door what, specifically, are they going to do to support public education?


Rin Lawrence
Gender consultant, lead organizer of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Gender and Sexuality Alliance

Public education is a necessity to the student who did not take their own life, because they were truly seen and heard. I do not say this lightly. Inclusion, public education — saves lives.

Today I stand for a public education system that recognizes diversity. But more than that, I stand for a public education system that values each person because of the colour of their skin, because of their expression or their sexual orientation, because of their physical, neurological or cognitive disabilities or divergence, because of their relationships with the land and its history — because they are human.


Jason Schilling
President, Alberta Teachers’ Association

I always say, you fight for what you believe in. I believe in public education. Together, we will advocate and fight for public education because it’s worth fighting for. So we are here today, but what do we do tomorrow? We move forward, we make public education a top priority, we take our shared vision for education and make it a reality. Engage with political parties, ask candidates what they think about class size, curriculum, the supports needed for our students with special needs, and if they don’t have a response, sit them down and have a conversation.


Brandi Rai
President, Alberta School Councils Association

If we want to maintain one of the best education systems in the world, then why are we not investing in it? What does it look like to invest in education? It means putting students first. What do students need in order to thrive? They need the funds put into their schools so that their schools are well maintained. They also need their educators to be well paid and well supported. 



Etienne Girard
Education student

It’s time for change, a change where we the teachers have a say in all the decisions made for us. Gone should be the days where we struggle to help all of those in our classrooms because of underfunding. Never again should a student be unable to ask for help in a classroom because there is not enough time for everyone. 


Cecil Hall
Calgary teacher

As teachers, we see the potential in our students. Let us work at removing the stuff that often covers the beautiful gem below. Each day, as we go into our schools, we continue to work hard at unearthing the gems that are there before us. This is public education’s superpower!


Sam Hammond
President, Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Teachers across this country are looking to you and looking up to you as you send a clear message: no more cuts, no more excuses. Today and every day public education must be a priority in Alberta. The Canadian Teachers’ Federation and our 365,000 members from coast to coast to coast stand with you and support you.

What’s next?

Now that the Oct. 22 Stand For Education rally is over, teachers and all residents are being asked to keep the momentum going by engaging in the political process in three ways:

1 Tell three people why it’s important to stand for public education.

2 Participate in a series of public discussions that the ATA is organizing to identify a bold, hopeful vision for the future of public education.

3 Ask every candidate that knocks on their door what specifically they are going to do to support public education. 

“The rally was just part of a larger campaign to engage the public and elected representatives in discussions around the importance of education and generating ideas for a bold future,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

“We want Albertans of all stripes to get involved and make their voices heard.”

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Ahmed Ali Knowmadic Poet laureate, rally energizer  
Ahmed: Crowd response:
My question to you is, who’s here for the betterment of public education? WE ARE!
Who’s filled with love, patience and dedication? WE ARE!
So who’s going to work to make a difference? WE ARE!
Who is? WE ARE!
Who’s here united for education? WE ARE!
Who is here for the betterment of future generations? WE ARE!
Who is here to support students and educators? WE ARE!
Who’s going to vote to make a difference? WE ARE!
Who’s going to [contact] their MLAs and be persistent? WE ARE!
Trust me, you can make that difference.
Let them know you believe in public education.
You can make a difference. I believe in you.
Let me hear one more time — 
who’s going to make the change?

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