Blog | December 10, 2012

When I asked Larry Booi what he was like as a student, he said with a grin, “I was good at tests.” Given how much he went on to achieve as a teacher, textbook author, politician, leader and deadly foe of hypocrisy, this is really not surprising.Booi completed a B.A. and a B.Ed. at the U of A. He said he was drawn to teaching because “it was a good thing to do,” and he wasn’t long in the classroom before getting involved with the ATA. One of the reasons was his opinion that student teaching practica at the time seemed to be “designed on a mediaeval model of trial by fire.” Two colleagues at Ross Shepherd told him to approach the ATA about this; he did and found the ATA receptive, and in the end, a dramatic shift in teacher education was eventually effected. For Booi, there are two ways to make changes: through politics, door number 1, as he called it, or through civil institutions, door number 2. For him politics does not necessarily allow you to focus on the issues you think are crucial, so the “ATA was the obvious vehicle” for him to strive for positive social change.Booi was involved with the ATA for most of his career, starting on the local executive of Edmonton Public, then moving on to provincial committees. He was first elected to Provincial Executive Council in 1992 as a DR for Edmonton City, a post he held until 1997. He served as ATA vice-president from 1997 to 1999 and as president from 1999 to 2003, serving another two years, 2003 to 2005, as past president. He also served on the executive of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.But politics—door number one—continued to attract him, and for the 2004 provincial election, Booi ran for the NDP in Edmonton–Glenora, losing by a small margin to Liberal Bruce Millar. It was at this time that Booi was involved in creating Public Interest Alberta (PIA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan, provincewide organization focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues. PIA brings together groups such as the United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association and the Alberta Federation of Labour to solve problems together and to stem the rising tide of privatization. “We are the good version of the Fraser Institute,” he said proudly, pointing to PIA’s extensive research in many social policy areas and its promotion of the importance of public spaces, services and institutions. Booi currently serves as the chair of PIA’s Democracy Task Force.When asked what he is most proud of, Booi joked about pride being the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins, but then turned deadly serious: “I am most proud of teachers, who in 2002 stood up and stood together to do something about problems in education,” he said, referring to the 2002 labour action when some 21,000 teachers in 22 jurisdictions across the province withdrew services over key issues such as unacceptable classroom conditions and fair compensation. Booi wrote at the time: “The withdrawal of services was a sacrifice made by dedicated professionals who had passed the limits of their patience and who were prepared to lose salary and risk public condemnation in order to create the conditions that would allow them to deliver professional service to all the children in their care.” In the end, this firebrand teacher and activist summed up something we all know but need to be reminded of from time to time: “You don’t get what you deserve in life,” he said. “You don’t get what you need. You get what you fight for.”This article was published in the Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine on December 10, 2012. Read the full article on the ATA website.