The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is the professional organization of teachers in Alberta. Its mission is to promote and advance public education, advocate for its members, and protect standards of professional practice. Their objectives are governed by the Teaching Profession Act, which was passed by the Alberta legislature in 1935. The association is divided into various geographic “locals”, which includes teachers employed by a school district or school divisions. Locals are grouped into larger geographic districts. Delegates from each local attend the Annual Representative Assembly in May, when the annual budget is approved, by-laws are revised, policy made, and programs for the next year are determined. Between annual meetings, business of the ATA is conducted by the Provincial Executive Committee, consisting of 20 elected persons. The ATA also has offices and staff in Edmonton and Calgary to conduct the day-to-day operations. Staff work in four program areas: Government and Administration, Member Services, Professional Development and Teacher Welfare.
The Alberta Teachers’ Alliance was established in 1917, at a meeting of the Alberta Educational Association. Its first annual meeting was held in spring 1918. The Alberta Educational Association was made up of concerned citizens wishing to promote education in the new province of Alberta, however, it was not equipped to address teachers’ working conditions, salaries, or professional concerns. Teachers were being drawn away from the profession to either enlist in the army due to the First World War, or to other professions that offered better salary and living conditions. Therefore, unqualified individuals were being authorized to teach due to the shortage. Short-term contracts were common, and teachers had no appeal against dismissal. At the inaugural 1918 annual meeting, resolutions were passed to advocate for improved working conditions, including a provincial salary scale, a better form of teaching contract, full citizenship rights for teachers, and a pension scheme. In addition, professional interests included drafting a code of ethics, publishing an ATA Magazine, and supporting a federation of all teachers’ organizations in Canada. The first president of the ATA was G. D. Misener, followed by T. E. A. Stanley in 1919 and H. C. Newland in 1920.
The first full-time paid general secretary-treasurer was hired in 1920. John Walker Barnett remained in this position until his retirement in 1946. Through his tireless efforts to raise the status of the teaching profession in Alberta, the “Alliance” became an “Association”, and was legally constituted under the 1935 Teaching Profession Act. The Act was amended shortly thereafter by William Aberhart’s Social Credit Party government to make it mandatory for all teachers at public and separate school boards to be members of the ATA as a condition of employment. Throughout the following decade significant legislation was enacted to strengthen Alberta’s teaching profession, including the School Act in 1936 that ensured teachers facing termination receive a hearing, the Teachers’ Superannuation Act in 1939, which was the first step towards a pension plan. In 1944 all teacher education was assigned to a university, which led to the eventual requirement for a bachelor’s degree as a minimum teaching qualification.The resulting demand for more schools and teachers as the post-war baby boomers started school led to an increasing modernization of education, as one-room school houses and correspondence centres closed and new schools were established. Throughout the 1950s, the ATA continued to improve salaries and retirement benefits, at times leading to labour disputes and legal disputes.
Over the years, attempts have been made by the Alberta government and Alberta School Trustees Association to weaken the bargaining power of the ATA through splitting the Association into separate professional and bargaining organizations. This happened during the late 1970s/early 1980s, the mid-1990s, and 2013. Under the Ralph Klein government, salary cuts to teachers throughout the 1990s took their toll, and led to striking in February 2002 by over 22,000 teachers - the largest labour action in ATA history.