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Alberta Education, Elections and Activists

It's been a little while since I've had the opportunity to sit down and write a blog. Sometimes life has a way of taking you out of your normal routine to deal with more pressing issues. However, now that I have the opportunity to once again bring more of my attention to the world of Alberta Education, I'd like to get back to writing about social justice education in Alberta.

I can't lie, I did not expect the NDP party to win their historic election earlier this month. I've spent much of the last few years directing my blogging and activism against the PC government as they had a strong inability to understand the importance of social justice education or even why sustainable funding would help Alberta's students.

But now with the new NDP government and expectations at an all time high for them to follow through on their campaign promises and the hope that they can usher in a new era of progressive politics in Alberta, I'm cautiously optimistic about where Alberta Education is headed. I've had the opportunity to meet our new education minister David Eggen on several occasions and he even visited my classroom to talk with my students during the election. I have a lot of confidence in him and appreciate that he sees the value of social justice education as a former teacher himself. However, our jobs as teachers is to not just cheer lead after an election. We have to encourage and push Mr. Eggen and the Alberta NDP to follow through on the promises that Albertans voted for and at the same time protect them for the inevitable vicious attacks that will be brought upon by opponents of the NDP.

Changing our society and communities does not begin and end during an election. A real democratic society must have citizens engaged in their communities throughout the year in order to build the type of communities that will benefit all people. Regardless of your partisan stripe, I think most Albertans can agree that the values of cooperation, collaboration, justice, equity and democracy are things that we want our students to learn and uphold as they become adults.

I've had the privilege of working with a lot of great people here in Edmonton around issues that face youth, the education system, and teaching social justice. However, as a teacher, I often feel that folks outside of the education system often do not want to or don't think to include teachers in changing our schools so they are more just, equitable and democratic. It is never easy being a teacher within the system who wants to work with others to create social change. On one side, teachers are constantly attacked by many folks on the political right about what we do in our classroom and how much we're getting paid. On the other hand, we're getting attacked by folks on the left about the horrible role we play in socializing students to obey and conform and are just drones stuck in a larger system. My issue is that many of the folks who have so much criticism about teaching and education have hardly ever been a teacher in a classroom. It's so easy to criticize something from the outside without understanding the inner workings. Until activists in Alberta are ready and willing to work with teachers in the system, we are not going to see the type of changes that many are hoping for with a new NDP government.

Throughout the course of this year I constantly find myself having to defend teachers and justify why I am doing the work that I am doing. It's easy (or maybe just easier) to read a book about the role of education in society and even be a classroom facilitator/educator to develop specific workshops. The difficult and rewarding part of teaching is that you're in it for the long haul. You work with students at their best and worst times (not to mention your own). You can't just give your all-star lesson plan every day and sometimes you fall on your face. But at the end of a semester, if you can look your students in the eye and tell them you've worked your ass off for them, they'll let you know how they feel. Until you've gone through that process year after year and working to build community with a group of youth, you can't even begin to understand the life of a teacher. Now I don't want to de-legitimize the critiques that folks have of teachers and our education system, but if you are one of those folks reading this right now, remember to take the time and listen to what teachers have to say, we have a thing or two to say about the profession we love.

Activists and advocates have to engage the teaching population and teachers have to be willing to have dialogue with members of our community to build an education system together that reflects that values that we want to strive towards as a society. And if you've read this blog before you'll know that everything we should do as a teacher is to create a more just, equitable and democratic world for all. Until the folks on the outside are willing to work with those of us on the inside we're never going to see the change that we want, no matter how happy we are after an election.