Annual General Meeting 2018

2018 CTF Awards

Special Recognition Award recipient Thomas made huge strides for teacher evaluation and pensions

By Shayna Lewis

The Canadian 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 student.

“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.

Recalling 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.”​​​

© 2020 Canadian Teachers’ Federation