"Accidental Engagement" by Linda Doyle

Every teacher enters the profession with zeal. We gladly spend five extra hours every night preparing exciting lesson plans for our students. At the beginning of the school year we are assigned the wildest mix of classes to teach, and we smile politely and try to think of it as a learning experience. When the Principal begins scouting for teacher advisors for extra-curricular activities and coaches for the myriad of school teams, we take on the longest possible coaching season, or several of them combined. We become sleep deprived from the first day of classes and remain as such for the next five years of our lives.

Some of these volunteer roles will last a year, some for two. In some cases, we take it on until the next newbie blindly volunteers, sometimes just until we receive a continuous contract. But then there are the roles that change our lives and our sense of purpose in the profession, and become part of our permanent identity as a teacher - for me, it was when I blindly volunteered to be a School Representative.

During my first staff meeting as a new teacher with CBE, I was willing to do anything that would make me stand out and hopefully turn my temporary contract into a probationary and then continuous. The current School Rep had announced that he couldn’t continue the role due to some personal commitments, and asked if someone would be willing to go to a meeting one Wednesday evening every month. Of course I could!  I didn’t even know what the meeting was for, but of course I could!  I could have been agreeing to create the next spaceship (a project you would not want me to personally be working on), but of course I could!  My Principal smiled and my colleagues all cheered, so I thought I had done the right thing.

It was the first Wednesday of November in 2007, and I entered the great hall at the Glenmore Inn to sit with my fellow colleagues and tend to important ATA business. And then the meeting began. Robert’s Rules of Order, myriad colors of papers shuffling back and forth, people running to microphones, more Robert’s Rules, debate, more papers shuffling, rumbling voices in the crowd, so many rules, so many people, so many hands going up, coming down, anger, laughter, jokes I didn’t understand… I think I voted no to everything at that first meeting because I couldn’t figure out what I was voting on quick enough to vote yes. (My sincerest apologies to anyone I may have voted against that night without intention!)

It was the most confusing moment of my professional career, and yet the most defining. In spite of my complete and utter bewilderment, I knew that what was happening in the hall that night was important.  I knew what had happened before I came into that room, and for the year that I would have the honour of sitting in that room and for many more to come; this group of remarkable colleagues was an exemplar of democracy, collaboration, and professionalism, and I knew that wanted to be part of it.
I don’t believe it is enough to ask why I became involved in the ATA, because to be honest, it happened purely by accident. I went on to become a committee member of the Local’s Communications Committee and Research Oversight Committee; I represent our Local on the Calgary Area Field Experiences Committee, and I am a member at large for the Communication, Advocacy, and Public Education Committee with the Provincial ATA, and this fall I will be returning to the Council of School Representatives.  When asked to volunteer, or if an opportunity arises for me to contribute, I do. I do this because I know that what we do as teachers, for our students, needs to esteemed, respected, valued and protected and I want to do my part to ensure that. It may have been an accident that I became a CSR, but it was the feeling in that room that night, during the height of bargaining and in the midst of fervour and possibility, that my dedication to my professional association was ignited.