A Word From Your ATA Local President: 

Brice Unland

August 31, 2013

Good afternoon, Bonjour,

Boy is it hot in here, almost as hot as the gymnasium was yesterday after session 1.

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? Whether by choice or Ministerial order, we are back, and its time to get down to work. 

Some might use this time at a microphone and a captive audience to tell you you are ineffective, you are doing a poor job, you are overpaid, you don't work enough. And all that should motivate you to teach kids to read. Well I'm not that guy. I work where you work, I know what you know, and what we know is that we work hard and we are doing a heck of a good job. If our first hand experience in the trenches isn't enough, perhaps the stats and research that show Alberta as being in the top five of the world for education will help. The next time someone comes into my house and wants to tell me I'm ineffective, they better have some classroom experience to show me how's it done,... if not,...we're done. 

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. Delivery of the message is just as, or, more important as the message itself. So let me be clear, literacy is essential to what we do, and despite being berated, we will all work hard to increasing literacy for our students. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Father for demonstrating how to deliver an important message that has motivated us to be the best we can. Thank you. 

Now on to my regularly scheduled greeting. 

First, some housekeeping about me, our contract, and my daughter:

I finished my Masters this summer. Most of you know how I feel about titles and positions, which is little and less. However, for those that subscribe to such labels, I respect your beliefs, and feel free to refer to me as Master Unland from here on out. 

Last year we didn't have a contract, and our respective highest level bosses were involved in a war of words in the media. Though, we were assured that kids were always at the heart of the matter. Good thing for those clarifications, otherwise one might think it was actually about money! However, words are wind, and last year was one of the windiest on record. While the gales blew in the education ministry, and trees were uprooted at Barnett House, you and I were engaged in extraordinary work. I'm glad someone is focused on the kids. 

I shared with you last year that our daughter was in a 3/4 body cast for a hip condition. Thank you all for your concern, prayers, and/or indifference. She received a further 6 months of treatment and the doctor tells us her hip is as good as normal. She is making up for lost time running jumping and eliciting a lot of "be careful"s from us . I'll be honest, there are fleeting moments I wish she was back in that thing.

Speaking of children, I have a story to share with you about my childhood. 

When I was a boy, with a full head of luscious blonde hair, I had unrealistic expectations for what life might be like as I grew older. As I graduated kindergarten, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. The sky was the limit. My peers recited the requisite careers: policeman, astronaut, scientist, teacher. One kid even wanted to be a fire truck. God bless him. When I was asked, without hesitation I stated I wanted to be a dog catcher. The whole world was before me, and I chose a dog catcher. When the crowd stopped laughing at me, the MC asked me why I chose that. It was simple. My dog Max had run away, and I wanted to catch him and bring him home. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I learned that Max never ran away, that's just what my parents told me. It seems my dream was as futile as my friend wanting to be a fire truck. At the end of the day, it was the thought that counted.

It wasn't long after kindergarten I met my life long best friends, Jason and Greg. There wasn't much we did without each other. Indeed, our homes and parents were simply extensions of each other. Of all the things we shared, it was our love for hotdogs that likely bound us together. You know, tube steaks, wieners, franks, chicken lips and pig parts. Fried, barbecued, boiled, microwaved, however it was cooked, we ate them in their purest form, on a bun with nothing but mustard and lots of it. Over one long summer we made a pact that we would open a restaurant specializing in hot dogs where kids would always eat free. 

Much like my dream of being a dog catcher, this one too faded. We would grow apart in high school and go our separate ways upon graduation. Jason and Greg would become nothing more than a passing memory every couple years. So it was with shame and hurt that I learned of their father's passing last year. He was a father to me for many many years, and I had neglected to keep in touch, and now he we gone. 

I was at a fulcrum in my life. I was starting a family, as are many of my friends, yet we are also at the age where we have to prepare to say good bye. And in the case of this last year, far too many goodbyes far too early.

So, what does my own sorrow have to do with us,.. what we are doing here? I'm getting there. Bare with me.

In university I worked bridge construction during the summers to pay for my ridiculously priced degree. I learned a lot building bridges. I learned that millimeters and fractions there of are exceptionally important even when dealing with structures that spanned hundreds of meters. I learned that everyone is instrumental in completing the project. I also learned a lot of things I would hesitate to share in a bar, never mind in Church. But perhaps of all of the lessons I learned, one stood out. We worked hard, some of the hardest days I have ever worked. We threw ourselves at the project as so many pieces were dependent on the completion of the previous work. Yet, when the whistle blew to signal coffee or the end of the day, we stopped almost immediately what we were doing and packed it in. This was a non-union job I might add for the two or three conservatives in the crowd today.  When we wanted to finish a section our foreman would refuse. He would always tell us, "boys, go home, the bridge will be here tomorrow for us to build". He was right.

While there are certainly enough metaphors concerning education and bridges, you know: building bridges to kids' minds, connecting ideas, burning bridges with your employer, driving on the bridge while building it etc., these are not what I am shooting for. Rather, work hard, and when the day is done, go home, see your family, spend time with your loved ones, engage in a hobby.  Our work will be there tomorrow, those we care about may not. We need to balance our very important and extraordinary work with our family, friends, and personal well being. 

Just like you, I am an ordinary person doing extraordinary things every day I go to work. You see, we live in an interesting time. The ordinary is extraordinary. Did you know, and you must because you couldn't miss it, that Angelina Jollie is a hero for getting a double mastectomy? It's true. She did what everyone in this room faced with the same situation would do. Don't get me wrong, I understand it would not be easy, and certainly requires extreme courage, but of the statistical 2-3 of you in this room that have already had that done, were you in the newspaper and national news media for your courage? You see, what is ordinary to you and I, has become extraordinary.

To much delight around the world, news spread of the good works Pope Francis had been and continues to be doing, and indeed he has been doing many. Yet, I had to read it twice when I read that he stopped to pay a bill. A bill he incurred for services rendered by himself. I paid three bills last week, under similar circumstances, yet no one had congratulated me for this remarkable feat. No pictures were taken of me paying the City of Red Deer my due taxes for installation of bike lanes, only to then remove the bike lanes, and then look around wondering where this idea of bike lanes originated. 

So I realized the difference, it was extraordinary people doing ordinary things. This is what was so impressive and captivating. In reflection I felt it also must be true in reverse; that is, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

Everyday the advocate should run a front page story of how our bus drivers safely transport 3000 students to school! Or, how about our administration running a special newsletter with the top headline "teacher marks papers for 3 hours after school", or Jeanne Davis preparing a press release that says, "school administrator manages to keep same number of staff and programs despite budget cut"! Believe it, those are extraordinary things being done by ordinary folks.

That's what we do. Every-day. That should be headline news at night, that is captivating and impressive. 

May God bless our year. Make time for yourself, and continue the extraordinary work you do. 

Thank you, Merci. 

Brice Unland


August 31, 2012
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?

Like the last two years I spent some time over the summer thinking about the subject matter I would cover for this opening address. That's the thing about this greeting, I need to engage you somehow. Unfortunately my dastardly good looks and boyish charm have faded and thus alone will not hold your attention. And retreading old topics is only useful for half the population in this room that forget from year to year, either by choice or coming by it naturally.

So this year I'm going to use my venue to its best, I'm going to talk in parables. But before I get to that I want to talk about me.

 Last year you learned that my wife and I were expecting our first child. Well, she arrived. I was there for it all, camera just a clicking away. My wife asked me to document the whole thing. Yet, I was getting trouble for taking pictures at all the wrong times from all the wrong angles. You know, birth wasn't as hard as I was expecting. Some simple breathing exercises and some Advil got me through just fine. At the end of the day we had a beautiful alien shaped skulled baby we named Mackenzie Brynn. I tell you this because it's what people with kids do, they natter on about their offspring. "She looked like she smiled but didn't, she pooped 7 times yesterday, she's pooping right now, she sleeps through the night", etc, etc. however I also tell you because this new addition to my life raises some questions. I thought I was doing what I was called to. that being, I was called to educate. It was vitally 
important because students need all of us to do what we do, whether that is teaching, maintenance, office work and so on. I thought this baby would change me. It would change my focus. And you know what? It did. Everything is different now that my own genes have replicated and crawl this world. What I used to care about... That should take a back seat. But you know what? It didn't.

Our daughter, in between pooping, giggling, and be the worlds cutest most advanced baby was diagnosed with a hip issue. Turns out her left socket never developed. Apparently those are necessary on both hips. Long story short, she needed to be put under and then have a 3/4 body cast built around her which she would sport like a turtle in a shell for 12 weeks. She is on week 10 and 6 days right now. So why didn't my focus change, particularly with all this going on? When we handed our precious spawn off to the Drs and nurses to be taken away and put to sleep and returned wearing more fiber glass than your average Winnebago I didn't hesitate at all. I trusted those people I had just met. They were trained. They were professionals. They were going to do for Mackenzie what I could not. I never changed my focus after the birth of our daughter, I doubled it. I need to be the best I can be because I understand now better than I did before what every parent is asking of us. I get it. It's what we asked of the health care professionals that took care of our daughter. You see, Mackenzie is the greatest thing ever. And so is Kate to her parents and Beckett to his. That's why I teach now. It's why I taught before. It's in part why we all do what we do. I wanted to let you know that my profession hasn't taken a backseat now that I wield and work a mean diaper changing station. Indeed, it's become even more important.

Part II.
Parables. My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to be a priest. I think he thought it would look good on his 
resume at the gates with St. Peter. God and I had other plans. However, I always did like a good talking from the pulpit. Especially parables. The beauty of parables is you really don't know what's going on so you can bend them to your will. I was sure certain parables were telling me partying was good to go and that questioning authority was a main pillar of Christ's message. The reality is they are a clever way to say what you need without alerting those who might want to stone you to death.

Let me try my hand at one, and perhaps this parable will apply to you, perhaps it won't. Hopefully we can all take something away from it.

Joseph who used to be called Aaron who was the son of Bartholemu, the son of Verner, the son of Casper, and so on was entering the great guild of stone masons. It was a Thursday and the palm trees had not yet sprouted coconuts or whatever it is palm trees do. Joseph was working at his trade near the well near the hill in the fishing village where most parables take place. Joseph was confidant in his trade. Indeed he had been schooled for exactly this purpose. That made him an automatic professional. He even had a piece of stone that stated as much that hung in his workshop. But he took this for granted. He felt that he didn't need to apply himself at his trade. After all he was a professional. As the years passed and the animals multiplied at rates divisible by seven, Joseph continued to cut stone with little consideration for change. Eventually he decided to take his Masters in stone cutting. This new education would make him a leader of stone cutters, for that is what the brochure promised. Two years and the cost of 17 chickens and three goats later, Joseph was a Master stone cutter. As it turned out, this did not help improve his craft despite the extra accreditation. For reasons not known or even necessary to the parable, Joseph let his pride interfere with his work. Now when Joseph wanted to make a particular cut in the stone he was told he could not. That it was not a cut a stone mason would make. This seemed odd to Joseph and the crowd that had gathered along the sea but who had forgotten to bring a bagged lunch. After all Joseph was a professional stone mason. This caused animosity between the stone cutters and the provider of stones. Time continued to pass and Joseph decided he would no longer cut certain types of stone nor shape them in ways objectable to himself. After all he was a professional and master stone mason. This caused the provider of stones to question the professionalism of all the stone cutters. They thought who were they to decide what they should cut? And the stone cutters thought who are we to be questioned on our cutting?

For six days and six nights the stone cutters insisted they were capable of deciding what to cut, and for the same amount of time the stone providers insisted they weren't acting like stone cutters so they would decide.

You know what happened? Stone still got cut. But both parties had abused and misused the idea of being a professional. It wasn't until the third year of drought and the sea was angry for three and two moons that the stone cutters realized that if they wanted to be treated appropriately they needed to act like stone cutters and that meant even the parts they didn't like. And the stone providers realized they needed to trust the stone cutters to cut the stone, and that not all stone cutters were like Joseph, and should not be treated as such. Most importantly for Joseph he learned that just because you had a stone that stated you were something didn't make you that something. Indeed even a Masters in stone masonry did not make him a leader. Much like standing in the sea doesn't make you a sea otter. It takes work and dedication every day... To be the parabolic stone cutter that is, not the sea otter, for being a sea otter requires a miracle that is outside the scope of this parable.

Friends, much and more has been said about professionalism and what it means. Indeed, I myself have been informed of its particulars by numerous parties on numerous occasions. Professionalism is not a mystery. It's what we do and it is not optional. If we don't practice it and stand up for it, someone else will insist they have the correct definition. Should you ever be in doubt, ask the people who wrote the book. They are the same group who I represent here today. I will leave you with the Association's motto which can be applied to all professionals, all jobs, and all levels of our school system. Here it is in my best Latin which is close to my best French, "Magistri, Neque, Servi", or in English, "Masters, not slaves". Friends and colleagues as we prepare for the new year and embark on providing a foundational pillar of society, remember those words, Masters, not slaves.

Take care,
Thank you. Merci.
Brice Unland