Teachers’ Federation (CTF) has named Gordon Thomas, former Alberta Teachers’
Association (ATA) Executive Secretary and longtime teacher, as a recipient of
the 2018 Special Recognition Award.
Thomas’ teaching dream began while he was still a young
“My bedroom at home was my classroom,” he gleefully
recalled. “Everyone would come to my room, and then there would be a lesson.”
Growing up with a high school teacher as a father certainly
cultivated that passion in his Lethbridge, Alberta family home. Thomas shared
how he had tools, including a full-sized wall map, to supplement his lessons
and learn more about the world.
When the time came for Thomas to consider a post-secondary
degree, it came as no surprise that he pursued a Bachelor of Education at the
University of Lethbridge.
“I had thought about other options,” he said, “but I always
came back to teaching. I always enjoyed it.”
Thomas went on to earn a Master and PhD in Secondary
Education from the University of Alberta. He followed in his father’s
footsteps, beginning his career in central Alberta as a high school drama and
social studies teacher in 1977. Thomas became a sessional instructor and
academic supervisor at the University of Alberta’s Department of Secondary
Education, and in 1984 joined staff with the ATA.
After 14 years as a professional development staff officer,
Thomas progressed into the role of Associate Executive Secretary under Charles
Hyman, a future recipient of the ATA’s highest award of honourary membership.
Thomas succeeded Hyman upon his retirement as Executive Secretary in 2003, and
held that role until his own retirement as of February 2018.
his 41-year career in public education, Thomas noted that one of his personal
high points was the establishment of a province-wide collegial teacher
evaluation policy and a process for the profession to review concerns about a
teacher’s teaching. The provincial Teacher Growth, Supervision and
Evaluation Policy continues to be used today and the ATA is responsible for
professional practice review, ensuring teachers meet high standards.
“The work has had an impact on teachers’ day-to-day work life,”
he said with great pride.
Another significant milestone came in Thomas’ tenure, with
the settlement that was reached between the ATA and the Government of Alberta
regarding a 2007 pension agreement. Thomas
negotiated a deal wherein the province would assume complete responsibility for
the teachers’ portion of the unfunded teachers’ pension plan liabilities (then
$2.1 billion), resulting in an immediate 3% reduction in teachers’ contribution
rates and a much stronger and more resilient pension plan for the future.
Thomas admits that it’s not always easy to work with
government and that “there have been some dark days” due to disagreements, but
it is nonetheless a necessary skill.
“What you do should respect the principles of good
teaching,” he explained, regarding all positions in the education field. “You
have to practice the elements of the profession.”
Thomas’ accomplishments have also earned him the John Walker
Barnett Fellowship in Education and the William Aberhart Gold Medal in
Education, two highly esteemed awards within the ATA. He has been a significant
contributor to the high standard that has been set by Albertan educators.
In retirement, Thomas has enjoyed spending some time in Palm
Springs, and has even taken up baking lessons.
“My wife is surprised with how well I’ve taken
[retirement],” he laughed.
“It has been a good transition. I’m able to
embrace a new chapter, and still enjoy the past.”