This year, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) awarded a Special Recognition Award to Carol Henderson, a former teacher and past president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).

Carol Henderson’s teaching career began in Saskatchewan, the province where she grew up. She moved to Saskatoon from her native Vanguard to obtain her Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan. She taught in various cities in the province before moving to Alberta. At the first staff meeting in her new province, her colleagues suggested she’d benefit from going to the local council meetings. Despite her initial reluctance, she recognized how much she learned about the association by attending the meetings and reporting back to her colleagues. Throughout her career of over 30 years as an elementary teacher and music specialist in Alberta, Henderson never lost interest in her teachers’ association.

Indeed, Henderson has been a member of the CTF Board of Directors and of the Education Faculty Advisory Committee at the University of Calgary. She also played an integral role in over 49 committees within the ATA.

Additionally, she occupied several positions in her Teachers’ Local and acted as her school’s representative for many years before serving five terms as District Representative for the Calgary District. Henderson then served two terms as the ATA’s vice-president while still teaching part-time. It is only once she became president of the ATA that she had to leave the classroom.

Henderson confesses how much she missed the children the most when she took on her new role: “When I became President, I met with some of my teacher colleagues—my friends—just before school starting, and they were all excited about their new class, and their class list, and getting their classrooms ready, and it really hit me then that I would not be there, with them. So, I missed the kids terribly.”

Luckily, during her tenure as president, Henderson received many emails from her former students, which she says was the best part of her day. And although she was out of the classroom, she made sure to stay in close contact with teachers to hear about what was happening in the classrooms and represent them the best way she could.

Henderson credits her ability to build relationships as the key to her success, an aptitude she says is learned in the classroom – first with students, then with colleagues, then with parents and the community at large. Inversely, her presidency and engagements outside of the classroom allowed her to broaden her views. Indeed, the knowledge she gained by learning about other teacher organizations and making connections and deep friendships in other provinces, territories and countries was used to improve the work of her association—all the while, never losing sight of the classroom. Henderson also enjoyed attending conferences around the world and building partnerships with teacher organizations from Finland, Norway, Singapore, New Zealand, and Iceland.

Henderson’s two terms as president were not without difficulty: in 2011, she was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. In November of that same year, she received a stem cell transplant from her sister, and continued to commute to Edmonton to do her work as president while she was under treatment. Her doctor confessed how she never had another patient like her who worked through their treatment.

“That was an extremely difficult time for me, but I had amazing support from the ATA. I can’t even begin to tell you how supportive they were all through that treatment, which actually lasted five years. ” She added how, “The stem cell was successful. I still have a few issues, but I’m thankful for every day.”

When reflecting on her career, Henderson expresses both joy with the work she achieved, but also disappointment with the lack of success and cooperation with the past and current government of Alberta in regards to the achievement testing regime. She also expressed the need to support teachers so they are better equipped to address violence in the classroom, child poverty, special needs students, and immigrant and refugee children.

Overall, Henderson says they managed to do a lot of very good work, such as having their pension liability dealt with by the provincial government. She would like to thank her staff and colleagues with the ATA, as well as her colleagues at CTF.

After retiring in June, Henderson hopes to continue her work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada; travel to the Artic, to Croatia, and Hawaii; work out at the gym; volunteer for her church; practice playing the piano and flute; and continue with her book club. She admits not being worried about filling her time with retirement.

Between laughs, Henderson shared what her favorite retirement activity will be: “I guess the thing I look forward to the most is being able to sit down during the day to read a book without feeling guilty and wondering what else I should be doing.”