Educating at All Levels
Alumni Gordon Thomas (BEd '77) is making a difference in both the classroom and through his work with the Alberta Teachers' Association
University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education alumni, Gordon Thomas, is the current executive secretary for the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). When not in the office he can be found with his wife - a justice in the provincial court of appeals - travelling the world together.
For seven years following his graduation, Thomas taught social studies and drama at Sturgeon Composite High School in northern Alberta. While there, he earned an MEd and a PhD from the University of Alberta. “On that journey toward my graduate degrees, I was invited to apply to join the ATA’s Professional Development program team, working to improve the standards around teaching quality and qualifications in the province.”
Thomas found the work interesting, a different way to contribute to something bigger. “It felt like a way to be involved in both governance, and in improving education in classrooms at all levels,” he says. Starting as an executive assistant in Professional Development, Thomas spent the next 14 years working in teacher education and certification. He guided curriculum change, student and teacher evaluation practices, performed field service via workshops, and taught at the university level.
In 2002, Thomas became executive secretary for the ATA – a position that he finds demanding but rewarding. “A lot of my work involves relationships with others,” he says, “be it working with government organizations, universities, or school boards. We are all partners in that respect. But my formal duties have a great deal to do with our own governance as an association.”
The teachers elected to be on the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council meet eight times each year, dealing with an array of issues facing the teaching profession in the province. The Council receives recommendations and provides direction; some of which involve matters of professional discipline or competency. “We view each scenario that arises as being unique and special,” Thomas says. “Each case requires investigation, evidence collection, its own impartial hearing, and subsequent decisions being made.” These scenarios may include conflict resolution, teacher-parent relations, and more.
Thomas was always drawn to teaching. His father taught high school in Lethbridge – and along with some very good teachers in his own schooling, he was led down the path toward making a difference. “I still have that desire,” Thomas says. “For the members of the profession, I want to create conditions that will improve teaching as a trade, serve the public interest and be of benefit to professional teachers. This job allows me to do that.”
Through his time with the ATA, Thomas has worked through the teacher’s strike of 2002, and the subsequent Alberta’s Commission on Learning (from which many good recommendations were implemented). Thomas is familiar with current headlines regarding proposed changes to Grade 12 final examinations. “As a teachers’ collective of over 35,000 educators,” Thomas notes, “we think that putting 50 per cent grading weight on just one day’s worth of multiple choice questions doesn’t seem like a valid measurement. We would rather see 80 per cent of the weight placed on in-term classroom performance, and we believe that the teacher’s assessments of student are even more important. But there are many more discussions to come,” Thomas says.
Thomas’ memories of being a student at the U of L are fond ones. “Those times were really happy and constructive for me,” he says. “There was enormous assistance provided between preparation, immersion through practicum, and graduation. A great deal of what I learned then, I practice today. The personalities and teachers I met while I was there were tremendous models for me. Their commitment was truly inspiring.”