This year's opening message was delivered via a pre-recorded video. You can find the video below:
2022 Opening Speech
Opening Speech 2021
It’s good to be back is it not?
A couple things right off the bat: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to all of you, from a pre-recorded message being played on a big screen. How do I look up close? I’ve always believed I am passable from a distance. This isn’t doing me any favours.
This is the first speech I wrote where my wife didn’t insist I take something out or round the corners off a jagged comment. I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. What I do know, is Covid has changed us all.
I’ve been watching Ted Lasso. For those that also have watched it, you know how great it is. For those that haven’t, know that Ted Lasso, an American football coach that goes to England to coach soccer, of which he knows nothing, is the most positive and inspirational person you could imagine. It’s charming and to be honest, a bit infectious. Not because he’s so happy you want to proverbially throat chop him (we all know someone like that), but rather, because he’s genuine. Sometimes, albeit briefly, I wonder if I could be more like Ted.
Another character on the show is Roy Kent. An aging soccer player that is known for his brutal honesty that lacks any sugar coating. It’s because of Roy’s character the show has a rating not suitable for children. I like Roy just as much as I like Ted. Just like Ted, Roy is genuine and it’s what makes him likeable. They are polar opposites in character and approach, but they have the same goal. When Ted might suggest that the team could do better next time and that a lesson has been learned, Roy tells them all they played the worst game of their life and they should all quit. Both are effective. Often, I wonder if it would be possible to be even more like Roy.
I suppose, when I think about it, it all boils down to words. Words matter. And just as much as the words, are the way they are said. The way a coach tells you something matters. The words a friend tell you matter.
Words matter, the way they are delivered matter. And the people delivering the words matter.
Me asking you how your summer was, would not be genuine. I don’t overly care. And I’m not trying to be rude, I don’t really care about my summer either. I am equal opportunist when it comes to not caring about small talk!
Words Can Be Healing
Perhaps, when the words “I’m sorry” are said, we need to stop and think about it. These are not easy words to say. Indeed, until recent years, they would have been the hardest of words for me to say. So when I hear someone else say them, I wonder how hard it was for them. I wonder if they considered their pride? Contemplated the fallout of saying them, or not saying them, wondered what happens next? Or were they simply said because they needed to be? Because they were genuinely sorry? In this case, I choose to be more like Ted Lasso. “apology accepted”.
Words Are Weapons.
Those weapons can be used to inflict harm. Sometimes self harm:
Let me quote former American president Donald Trump, “I went to an Ivy League School, I’m very highly educated, I know words, I have the best words”. He then when on to claim there is no better word than “stupid”…. Indeed.
For the sake of verbiage, let me provide you with a juxtaposition:
The words of the bible demonstrate this. The words, “that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” - these words matter so much, we have fought wars over them. The words themselves help lead to the great schism! Talk about powerful!
As I was saying, words are weapons.
A present arrived this spring at our house. It was addressed to my wife, but really the present was for our kids and neighbours. It was poly-ethylene based, like any good Albertan would want their presents to be made out of. And it’s loud and obnoxious, again, like a good Albertan would want. And it sits on our front lawn, undeterred by climate change. It has three words on it: Defend. Alberta. Parks. Those words are weapons. I know it, the people walking by know it, and the intended audience knows it.
It was joined shortly after by another sign. This time with emojis: I ❤️ Alberta Public Education. The heart and Alberta emoji land like grenades at the feet of anyone who would dare rush our fortified position on this issue.
In these ways, I choose to be full Roy Kent. Crystal clear. No room for a different interpretation than that in which we intend.
It’s not just us that are using words as weapons. Listen to the words that enemies of public education use. They are purposeful and meant to stir up anger and emotion amongst those that don’t know any better.
Words are weapons. And in the case of education, anticipate that this war will threaten to reach Defcon 1 before a resolution is found. The nuclear options will likely be trotted out. When words are weapons, the nuclear options are “lockout” and “strike”.
If, as I have been suggesting, words matter, then I suggest to you words not said matter equally.
Two elections are upon us. While I would have argued that the municipal election is way more important to us as teachers of Red Deer Catholic, considering the federal government outspent our provincial in Covid related funding last year, it would seem that the federal election has become a player in the education space. Regardless, as we listen to candidates, particularly trustee candidates, make note of the words they use, BUT, listen for the words they don’t speak. Words not spoken are also deliberate. They matter. Was it just a coincidence that a certain topic was not addressed? Have you heard words of support for public education, or have they chosen to remain silent on this topic? Think about that and think about how you will vote.
The words themselves matter. But so do their delivery. Spoken on their own, they are meaningless. Words without sincerity and emotion are easily dismissed. Spoken from within, they are powerful.
That’s a lot. It’s been a heavy couple years. I wish that we could return to the old days when our problems were smaller, when my opening speech could be about the ridiculousness of my own children, or taking pot shots at senior admin with some of them not knowing it (Rod was always smiling), and a general positive message about what we do.
But I will tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. It’s the same deal we have made before:
Our Board of Trustees, senior admin, your school administration, your parents, and most importantly your students just want you to teach. They want the world class education Alberta is known for. They aren’t listening for any words spoken or not that I mentioned earlier. They are waiting for a “welcome back, I’m glad to see you”. And if I’m being honest, most of you don’t want to worry about the words I mentioned earlier either. You are primarily concerned about saying the words, “welcome back, I’m glad to see you”. And maybe you only want to hear in return, “Hi Mrs. Will!” Or “How was your summer Mr. Peritch?”
And that’s fair. We signed up for this to teach.
So here’s the deal. You do that. You teach. You focus on that. It’s what your best at. It’s why we have the education system we do. The Association and I as your Local president will focus on the politics. I ask that you pay attention to events (as if you could miss them) and be aware of the present atmosphere. But by and large, just teach. If, but more likely when, you need to move into action, I will let you know. Initially I thought we should have a code phrase, like “twelve watermelon purple”, or “my hair is on fire”, but I thought that might be complicated and hard to work in to a normal conversation. So instead, I will just use clear language.
To summarize, you teach. Do what you love. Be Ted Lasso. Don’t be naive, and don’t abdicate your professional responsibility. But the students need you now more than ever. And, I think we need the students now more than ever as well. Focus on that.
When I need you, and it may be periodic, I’ll let you know. Then I hope you can transform into Roy Kent, throw a few brutally honest punches, and then return back to what you do best.
Of course, if you want to teach AND and be involved every moment, then I welcome you, send me an email and I will happily tell you how you can be more involved. If you want to make this your life’s work, I keep torches in the box of my truck, we march at dawn.
I considered leaving you with a list of my favourite words. However, a good portion of them would be deemed offside.
Maybe, after these last couple years it’s more fitting to end with the words of Steve Jobs:
“Sometimes, life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith”.
Have a good year.
Opening Speech 2016
Fair warning: no sad stories from me this year.
It's great to be back is it not?
The start of the year.... Home of the teacher ritual, as complicated and based on superstition as a sports team locker room.
Some teachers head straight to the bulletin border, that's a first. Others insist one must first pick crayon tub colour, followed by sorting reading carpets by fibre density, and only then moving onto bulletin boards all while walking counter clock wise through the room.
At some point the teacher will lay eyes on the class list.
This makes the year real. Names are attached to you. You will be responsible for them. So before you start their leaner profile, you check last names.
Sometimes you are just looking for known last names. Some familiarity. Perhaps a genius sibling of a previous genius child is enrolled, or the problem brother if you forgot to walk counterclockwise around the room while setting up bulletin boards.
It's great. In a grade team you can swap technical strategies for those you have in common.... While admin is in ear shot, then you go back to just swapping students. It's an all out first round draft!
There was lots of talk at the end of last year who would go first round, and consequently those that would go last round.
Teachers are feverishly trading back and forth. Some is out in the open for all to see, a show of strength, or, a bluff perhaps, some is done in photocopy rooms, and others yet in the parking lot or nestled in the twirly slide.
Sometimes it turns into an all out bidding war: I got a Maschio kid here, starting the bid at half my faith coach release time! Yuuuup. Here we go now, I got two parties, yeepppp, that's another, here we are, well rounded child, strooooong in reading, don't ask about math, real keener, left handed, do I have another offer?!? Known to give Christmas gifts, going once...
Just when you have it all sorted out, in comes the councillor with some change.
Before all that you look for the offspring of colleagues. If it looks like a central office name, you just get your Montfort Rolodex. There are a lot of names there. Birrrrrllllll, you spin it….Birrrrrllllll…. “b last names”, Birrrrrllllll….. “f last names” You don't find the name, but you see "Pasula" and you were looking for "Sawula". You realize that's an administrator kid not central office,... No biggie this requires no special attention.
Then there are the big names, the real game changers.
LeDene: you are sweatin’ blood not water. For good measure you are making the sign of the cross after each main point. If they had asked the "schollie survey question" about if students know that Jesus is your friend, students would reply that my teacher is "Jesus".
Stewart: you think real hard what you should or should not do. Then you realize it's unnecessary. His bark is louder than his bite.
LaGrange: you spend hours researching and climbing trough the family tree, only to realize that one belongs to one of the many many many other Lagranges.
Mason: this can't be missed. It stands right out. Mostly because secretaries have programmed Powerschool to bold the name for easy notice.
You have have outcomes for the whole year and next year are on the board. You are LIFTing and CFLing and reciprocal teaching. You are throwing in medical terms between educational buzzwords because they sound good. You have a Kelly Gallagher book that you have never read and have no intent to read sitting on your desk.
Just looking for these last names is enough to put one on stress leave before the first class has even started. From one teacher to another, Ive had some of them,... The fear is unfounded.
One name no one really looks for is “Unland”. But now that we have kids in the system should you see our last name on the class list, I thought you might appreciate some tips:
What to expect with our daughter Mackenzie:
• She’s a good talker. Not sure about reading. Might need some help there.
• She likes to challenge authority, I am not sure where she gets that from. I expect her to do this often, but also learn to do it respectfully.
• Often times she is right, she gets that from her mother I am told.
• I expect her to fail at many tasks. That’s okay. Failure will teach her as much as her successes.
• I appreciate the provincial focus on literacy and numeracy, but it would be really nice if she got a good solid art background. She might be terrible, but she would have a ton of fun. A good science background would t hurt either.
• If Mackenzie wins a race, give her a ribbon. Or don’t. If she doesn’t win, please, please, no participation ribbons. I like the fridge with a nice clean look.
• She will likely need some corrective punishments. Go ahead.
• Mackenzie is loved and has a pretty good home life. As you know, some of her classmates may not. Feel free to focus on them instead.
• In all her courses and educational matter she should scrutinize and make educated decisions based on sound reasoning and deductive skills she learns. This also applies to math and religion class. No free passes.
• If there is a discrepancy between what Mackenzie tells us and what you tell us, we side with you. Every time.
• When Lukas enters the system in 2 years all the same applies. Just add corporal punishment to your pyramid of intervention. And lastly, try not to make eye contact with Lukas. It's dangerous. If you notice the dimples in his smile, it's too late, he is now in control.
Those of course are just small footnotes you can feel free to include in her learning profile. But more than anything else, and this really is the key to our children’s education here, I want you to know this: We trust you. Make the decision you need to make concerning their learning. You know best what they need. You have our support. Period.
If you would indulge my just a few more minutes of your time I want to share three separate stories with you.
When I was a boy, 6 years old, my grandpa, my dad’s dad, passed away. I remember being at the funeral. I remember sitting in the pew as the service went on. Then my dad grabbed my hand and held it. I remember, clearly, thinking to myself I didn’t need his support. I had been to funerals before. I was fine. Grandad passed away. He was old, he was sick, it happens. As my father continued to hold my hand, I dared to glance up at him. It was then I realized he wasn’t holding my hand for me, he was holding it for him. My father is a big man, over six feet tall, not sure what happened to me, and matching his height was an outward personality and demeanour that matches his fridge like size. I never knew my father to cry. It just wasn’t something that was possible. Yet here he was, crying. It’s a memory and a lesson that has stuck with me.
As we finished up exams last year in June, I had spent the day marking papers and inputting final grades for my students. They were no longer in my care and were being reduced to a number in PowerSchool. Such as it is at the end of the year. At the end of the day, a group of us were walking out together, just ahead of us was Alison Snow, walking with one of her students from foundations,.. holding his hand. As we reached the parking lot, she turned to her student and gave him a hug… a long hug. One with a lot of tears. He was moving on and would not be back next year. This was touching not only for the two embraced, but also for those of us passing by.
I don’t usually cry when my students leave, only on occasion, and often tears of joy. I certainly don't hug my students, I like my bubble. But here it was. It reminded me of my father and the funeral. Human touch in both cases was not only wanted, but needed. Despite the school bus waiting for this student, it wasn’t about school. It wasn’t about the grades we put in, the papers we marked, the gym in which the students finished writing the most important exam of their life, it was about a teacher and her student. A student and his teacher. A relationship. Not outcomes. But rather, the humanity between two people. One young, one old.
Yesterday, Father Penna came to speak to us as a staff. In usual Penna style he was animated and passionate about his subject matter. He recognized me, a former student, and took some fair jabs. It had been thirteen years since we were together at the UofA, yet neither of us had forgotten one another. Fr. Penna, then, as now, to borrow a favourite phrase of Mrs Finnigan, "challenged" us with his talks. Many a debate is where Fr. Penna and I found each other over lunch at St. Joe's. Because I was a poor student he usually bought, and so I would let him win the odd theological discussion. I was not his easiest student, and he most definitely was not my easiest professor. But all these years later, he remains one of my favourites. Why? Our relationship. Our differing views and age were secondary to the human connection we had formed.
That’s what we want for our kids. Strong relationships with those that are entrusted to their care. Whether they excel or struggle in school, whether they are picked first or last in phys Ed, it doesn't matter to us. A strong relationship is the key. The rest will come. For me, education is primarily about relationship building. And for me, that's what I will be focusing on tomorrow.
Thank you for your time, and may God bless our year.
School Year Opening Address
Good afternoon, Bonjour,
It's my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of the teachers of Red Deer Catholic. It's good to be back is it not?
Personally, I am thrilled. With a four and 1.5 year old at home all summer, dropping them off at the day-home was a sweet blessing. Raising others people’s kids is way easier than raising your own.
Last year at our opening Mass, Dave Khatib shared with us a touching story of his father passing. Sitting in the pews, at that time, I thought how hard it is for us to deal with such events. I certainly struggle with them. Dave’s story reminded me to love those closest to us at all times. With that, I put the thought out of my head. I did not know that death would come knocking for my daughter just a day later.
Before I get to that story. Let’s talk a little about me. I grew up in a very traditional Ukrainian Catholic home. Pierogies, perishke, Divine Liturgy (instead of Mass), no working on Sunday.. unless there was fencing to do, which there always was, so it was really more of something we just said then did. But you get the point. I also grew up memorizing the Act of Contrition. The Act of Contrition is an absolving of sin until you can get to confession. Being a teenager is a tough time for everyone, parents included. At that age you are really racking up the venial sins by the hour, and the odd mortal sin here and there. An Act of Contrition can wipe that all away, albeit, temporarily. So, it was instilled in us that should our lives ever be in peril, an Act of Contrition should be said to ensure eternal damnation was not our final act.
Driving much to fast down the gravel roads at 2:30am to meet our 12:30 curfew? Act of Contrition.
Borrowing Neil’s dads truck, a six pack, a couple Captain Black’s, and going gopher hunting at 14? Act of Contrition.
Getting into the bull pen to encourage said bull into a smaller pen further from the cows? Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary.
So, it was in our family, that frequent conversations with God were not only part of who we are but also necessary.
As I got older, and the foolish scenarios I used to often find myself in became less frequent, so did my last minute pleas with God.
University found God and I embroiled in deep philosophical conversations. Fundamentally, God and I just did not see eye to eye on certain issues and topics. None the less, mutual respect was always a staple of our conversations.
As I moved out of the transformative years of higher education, the conversation mostly turned to casual observance and appreciation.
When kids arrived, that would become the most frequent topic. As a parent you worry, you hope, and you love. Who better to help out with that than God? A quick prayer to say thanks that our child didn't catch his upper jaw on the slide as he flung himself off the top, a pondering question from one parent to another as to why a child thinks it best to rub spaghetti in their hair rather than put it in their mouth, and a quiet plea every now and then in the hope of divine intervention to make bedtime go smoothly. If I'm being honest I actually request that nightly. Sometimes I start the request shortly after they wake up.
So when Dave spoke last year, I said a quiet prayer. I thought about my own parents and my children, and counted my blessings.
Lindsay and I had planned to have some friends over for a BBQ the day after that opening mass. One last hoorah before school started in earnest. As we prepared for the evening, our daughter, Mackenzie, sat on the couch quietly watching her stories. Too quiet actually. A three year old is never still for long, regardless of how ridiculous and annoying Toopy and Binoo are being, or how whiny and helpless Caillou is acting.
Walking over to the couch we found her very warm and quite lethargic. Now, that's my normal state when I lay on the couch and watch the Backyardigans, but certainly not her’s. Shortly after, she became sick and we moved her to the bathroom. This wasn't normal. Mother's intuition kicked in, and Lindsay asked if she should call the ambulance. Not wanting to tax our under-funded health system, I suggested it wasn't a big deal. Then she stopped breathing. As it turns out calling an ambulance was probably prudent. As Lindsay called 911, I tried my best to get any reaction out of our daughter. She had become unresponsive.
She wasn't breathing and she was limp. She had gone from pale to purple in seconds. I took her outside, in hopes the cool air would bring her around. No luck. We would have to wait for the ambulance.
Seven minutes. Seven eternal minutes. Lindsay paced around the house answering the questions of the dispatcher, requesting updates, and shouting orders at me.
For most of those seven minutes I held our mostly lifeless daughter in my arms. I combed her hair. I told her stories about frogs jumping on lily pads, her new favourite narrative. I kissed her forehead.
For seven minutes I wasn't aware of my surroundings.
Of the past, or the future.
I was simply in the present. I didn't think about anything other than comforting our daughter.
Two ambulances and six paramedics arrived at the end of those seven minutes. They hooked her up to fancy little machines in briefcases, poked her, prodded her, and brought our little nugget back to life.
Lindsay rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital while I strapped our son, Lukas, who had been sleeping through all of this, into his car seat to meet them there.
When I arrived, Mackenzie was sitting up in the emergency hospital bed, eating a Popsicle. Purple, her favourite colour. The best the Dr. could deduce, was that due to an exceptionally high fever in a very short period of time, her body shutdown.
When it was all said and done, later that evening, as I lay in bed awake (sleep would not come easy for quite some time), I finally remembered God. The words I said to Him, are best kept between us. I was angry. But also thankful.
It donned on me then who is to thank. Plainly, the six paramedics that showed up and took care of Mackenzie are to be thanked. They did all the work. Yet, as I spent time reflecting on this experience, you see it is not something that easily leaves your conscience, I started to think there was more at work. More people need to be thanked for saving my daughter’s life.
Those people are you.
Without public education, those paramedics could not have done their job. That's Gods honest truth. The likely hood that some of them attended our schools is high. So let me be clear:
Thank you to the Patricia Cejs who taught these folks how to read and play nice when they were to young to know what important role they would fill later in life.
Thank you to the Bill Duries who drove these young kids to school on a yellow bus.
Thank you to the Monica Hopkinsons who insisted other students return their texts, so these students would have the resources they need.
Thank you to the Hulio Chadis for ensuring these students had meaningful access to technology with which to learn.
Thank you to the Glen Traquirs, for putting up with their likely inability to make music, and hence they focused on sciences to become paramedics.
Thank you to the Fred Franks who instilled a love of mixing compounds together to watch them explode or start on fire. This would push these students further into science classes in post secondary. Little did they know that their jobs would never require them to mix substances together to make explosions.
Thank you to the Guy St. Martins who ensured these students had a safe and maintained building in which to learn.
Thank you to the Dan Flannagan’s who counselled these students, both in career and personal choices.
And while I often try to include intentional humour in these speeches, I am not trying to be funny with this next one, thank you to the Paul Stewarts for hiring qualified individuals to fill these rolls.
You see,.. the whole setup relies on you.
It is quite possible my daughter would not be alive today if it were not for the intervention of the paramedics. The paramedics could not have done what they did without you.
From the bottom of my heart,.. thank you for saving my daughter’s life.
Remember that when we walk into our classrooms on Tuesday. It’s not just literacy, inclusion, faith, and technology. It’s people’s lives that we hold in our hands. It doesn’t get any more important than that.
I owe you much. More than I could ever hope to repay. To honour this debt, I can only think that come Tuesday, and each day after it, I will do my best to educate the students that come through my door, because someone else's future might very well rely on their’s.
May God bless our year.
Thank you, Merci.
August 31, 2013
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.
It's my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of the Alberta
Teachers' Association Local #80. It's good to be back is it
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
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.
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.
Thank you. Merci.
About the Local