Division Opening Welcome Message

Good afternoon, Bonjour,

It's my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of the Alberta Teachers' Association Local #80. It's good to be back is it not? Yesterday was a great start to the year and the changes we are facing. Well done PD team.

This is my fourth year bringing greetings, and in those four years much has occurred. Stuffed teddy bears and manly hugs come to mind. what's next I wonder? I flossed just to be sure.

Our Division theme is “Find God in All Things”. As it happens, this past year we welcomed our second child into the world. Lukas Ryan. He weighed something that seemed normal, and his length was a guesstimate by all involved as their is no way to actually measure a fresh born still in the fetal position in any sort of scientific matter. The science is really akin to that you would normally find on Fox News or Sun News, that is, not science at all. A real blessing he was. He broke the curse of his mother's side that has only produced girls.

We understood the second pregnancy would be easier, like your second year of teaching. Yet, that's not really how I found it. Weight was a real issue, I just kept putting more on, and, as you can see I am still struggling to lose it post birth. Sleep was no better. Lindsay isn't a quiet sleeper when not pregnant, never mind mimicking a beached whale in the bed. Tough, but I really pulled through. Thank you for your encouragement.

The first birth was a blur. So much going on. This time I got to really take it all in. My breathing and heart rate were rock solid right from the first contraction. As Lukas was being brought into this world, I really started to understand what a miracle this whole process was, something that was overlooked last time with Mackenzie. For example, just prior to the cord cutting, I noticed, with crystal clarity, what a wonder the hospital bed is. It can be manipulated in 7 different ways. Phenomenal! And those blanket warmers? How did I miss those last time? And to wrap it all up, the miracle of life. Division theme? Mission accomplished.

On to my two stories related to education. It's two because my wife won't listen to three when I prepare this speech, and to be honest you are already being nice listening to two.

Just this last Christmas, Lindsay's grandma slipped and fell, fracturing her hip, as older folk are like to do. Thankfully, a few weeks in the hospital made it right. We walked into her shared hospital room a few days later, and magically, like Harry Potter wizard style, before we even say hello she is offering us fresh fruit, raspberries and strawberries! How is it grandmothers always have fresh fruit at the ready? Even in the hospital she manages to pull this delicious not in season fruit from out of nowhere when she is supposed to be recovering. Politely we decline, but our daughter Mackenzie has no issue eating all of great grandma’s food and grandma couldn't be happier. As they sit on the bed together sharing raspberries, I can't help but notice this juxtaposition. An eighty four year old woman with a bum hip who lived through the great depression and is nearing the end of her time in this world, and a two year old with a bum hip who can't pronounce the r in depression and has the whole world before her, are sharing a seat and berries as if it was something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. What different lives they will have lived when it is all said and done.

As Mackenzie darted in and out of the hospital room and chased imaginary butterflies down the halls, I asked Lindsay's grandma if she attended school when she was a little girl. She brightened right up. Her exceptionally wrinkled face, turned into a huge smile. She loved school a lot she told me. She loved to learn and to play with the other kids. She told me that's why it was so hard to stop going to school after grade four. I asked why she stopped, she continued, because girls were needed at home while the boys in the family continued to attend. That was how it was back then. That was the end of her schooling. Grade four. Probably just started learning cursive. Remember that? Cursive? Me neither. See curriculum change can be a real positive movement!

By now Mackenzie had returned from putting on a show for some wandering patients and wanted to know what else great grandma had to eat. There they were again, 84 and 2. Grandma with 4 years of education, Mackenzie will receive 12 minimum. This image left me with an important understanding of education.

Sadly education is often times used for political reasons. This is an unfortunate by-product that has become increasingly frequent in Alberta of late. The government tries to skirt that conflict by having us focus on how educationally sound students will increase economic production. Capitalism at it's finest.

Yet there in the hospital room, I saw the most important aspect of education, the social dimension. Today education is a right for all children, females included, not a luxury. Education breaks down the barriers that inhibit success. Education pushes the social condition of our community forward, often times fighting an antiquated and established position. When done right, it's not political, and it certainly isn't concerned with supply and demand, instead, it's mindful of the human condition and the potential encapsulated in each student. What I saw in that room, was the result of public education. It was a beautiful sight and wonderful reminder of the importance of what we do. We have come a long way since great grandma entered a one room school house, and we have a long way to go still. That's part of the importance of public education.

Not long after that hospital visit we were out to my parents farm for Christmas. Dad wanted to grab something from the shop at the old farm so we headed across the lake to do so. I was instructed that what we were looking for was located in the quad shop. This was the name given to the shop attached to the barn, to differentiate it from the brown garage, which was called brown, to differentiate it from the house garage. Which in truth was only brown for one year before it was painted grey like everything else. Add to that the quad shop never really housed the quad, and you have a general sense of our farm, or really, any farm for that matter.

It had been years since I had been in the quad shop. Yet, I knew precisely where to find the light switch in the dark. As the three barren bulbs dimly lit up the shop, it was exactly as it always was. Our work bench was front and centre and received one of the three lights overhead. Further back the darkness began to overtake what little light there was, hiding a plethora of tools and other unaccounted for items. I am quite sure no one has ever explored the very back of the shop, it's too dark. In the rafters hung a plane propeller. Know one knows where it came from, yet we saw no reason to move it or get rid of it. Like Antonettie’s Cube, it just hangs out, unused. I jest.., we pulled the plane propeller down once for fun.

Things changed a lot on the farm over the 15 years we lived there. From cows and peacocks to wild boar, horses, and ostriches. Yet, the work bench remained the same. There was nothing we couldn't build or fix at that bench. The projects were levels of varying difficulty and art, but the bench could always sort them out. Horseshoe cleaning one day, battery reconstruction the next, and always, always a pail of bent nails ready to be straightened.

That bench was a central pillar of the farm. As the tools changed and the jobs changed, the bench endured and carried on.

Perhaps that bench is a metaphor for education. That the foundation, that is teaching, is the most important aspect and that doesn't change, regardless of new tools and changes occurring around and within. It might be strange and uncomfortable but there is no fear because the foundation is able to adapt to the changes and fancy educational jargon being placed on the bench to be worked on.

Perhaps that bench is a metaphor. Or, just as possible it's just a story about a bench.

It is possible to boil the purpose of education down to reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s also possible to deduce that rejigging and rebranding of knowledge will create better results. These possibilities are not inherently wrong.

However, I believe that education is more than that. Education is socially cognizant and responsible, and the knowledge we are bestowed with is almost entirely inconsequential when compared to that of the person wielding the knowledge.

Colleagues, in three days we begin again the most important role in society. We have a social responsibility to push forward and make our communities better through the education of our youth. We also have a wave of change of the magnitude that education has never seen before. It can seem overwhelming. Yet, we will meet this challenge and we will continue to make education in Alberta one of the best systems in the world. We are going to do this not because someone told us to, or because we have been convinced of a new model. We are going to do it, because we believe in “it”. It, being education.

May God bless our year.

Brice Unland


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