The next big curriculum crisis is emerging in Alberta. And as a former mathematics teacher, I am pleased that for once it is not an attack on my beloved subject. Ahem, social studies folks … ... Read more
Question: What happened 100 years ago? I thought the ATA was born in 1935. Answer: In the early part of the 1900s, a going concern on the educational landscape was the Alberta Education ... Read more
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A recent series of workshops provided teachers from around the province with valuable tools that will enable them to impart indigenous learning to colleagues and students. Dubbed Train the Trainer, ... Read more
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New book promotes informed conversations about international testing A new book commissioned by the Alberta Teachers’ Association is attempting to generate critical engagement around international ... Read more
Wildrose shadow minister shares her views on public education Can you briefly describe your educational background and your career prior to 2015, when you made the decision to run for provincial ... Read more
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Come sail away! Come sail away! Come sail away with Lee! Teachers plan summers of travel and sleep The ATA News asked teachers via Facebook: As summer break approaches, what are you most ... Read more
1st Full swing Grade 3 pupil Seth Elaschuk enjoys one of the last recesses of summer. Photographer: Darryl Propp, Landing Trail School, Gibbons Date of photo: Sept. 19, 2016 Judges’ ... Read more
The Association’s Annual Representative Assembly is not known to shy away from controversy. In fact, it periodically seems to revel in it. This past weekend was no exception as the assembly took on ... Read more
Question: The Alberta Teachers’ Association has announced that it is withdrawing its representatives on the boards of the seven regional consortia across the province. What is going ... Read more
On Dec. 10, 2003, the minister of education appointed me to serve as a public member of the Professional Conduct Committee of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. I have had the privilege of serving ... Read more
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On Twitter From the Annual Representative Assembly (#ARA2017) Jennifer Crook @Jennugget_ Feeling grateful to have attended the 100th #ARA2017 of the Alberta Teachers Association. Proud to be a part ... Read more
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Annual Representative Assembly kicks off year of anniversary acknowledgements Celebrating the past while looking ahead to the future was a common theme during the 2017 version of the Annual ... Read more
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Two locals announced that they were establishing scholarships in the name of soon-to-be-retired executive staff officers. Elk Island Local No. 28 is creating a scholarship in honour of Assistant ... Read more
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Ongoing criticism and derogatory comments earn teacher a $4,500 fine Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations ... Read more
Conrad McFarlane is done with the oilpatch.
After more than 10 years working as a welder, the 29-year-old journeyman is now enrolled in the faculty of education at the University of Alberta.
"I have a few friends who are teachers and they seem pretty happy — they have a union, they have a pension, it’s a secure job," McFarlane says. "I think teaching would be pretty fun."
The education faculty has seen an increase in inquiries from tradespeople in recent months, which is possibly a
result of the flagging economy, said Bonnie Watt, an associate U of A professor who acts as a liaison between the faculty and interested tradespeople.
"What’s happening now over the last few months … people are starting to reconsider what they want to do more so than they have in the past, I think," Watt said. "There are many people over the last number of months who have expressed interest in getting their bachelor of education degree."
McFarlane said he’s been thinking about making a change for about three years, and about a year ago he actually "pulled the trigger" and started looking into options and upgrading his high
school courses. One thing that attracted him to the U of A’s education program was the fact that the department grants 30 credits of advance standing to those with journeyman tickets, which will fast-track his education degree by a year.
"I can get a degree in three years so that’s pretty cool — I figured I’d give it a shot," he said. (McFarlane is considering a transfer into nursing, but if that doesn’t happen, he says he’ll be happy to follow through with education.)
If this increase in interest leads to more certified tradespeople in Alberta schools, that will be good for students,
said Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar.
"The trade itself is part of it, but the living experience is also a big part," he said.
"A tradesperson can speak with authority about what it’s like to live that lifestyle."
"What are the hours like? What’s it like working in weather? These are lived experiences that only an individual who has been there can share."
Tradespeople can also act as positive role models who demonstrate that university isn’t the only path to success.
"I think there’s a great value in looking at trades as a viable alternative to an outcome in school, and encouraging children to work toward trades, as opposed to viewing trades as a fallback position," Ramsankar said.
A key component, he said, is getting tradespeople fully qualified as teachers, so they have a solid background in pedagogy.
"Just as there’s skill involved with doing any task ... so there is with teaching as well," Ramsankar said. "Having the ability to reach children ... becomes important."
Tough timesMcFarlane said the current state of the economy, with no end in
sight, is a significant factor in his decision to switch careers.
"It’s getting harder and harder and so many people are out of work," he said. "I used to be able to throw a bunch of resumes out and get four job offers the very next day. Now you’re lucky to get one in a month."
McFarlane said that many of his friends have talked about going to university, but so far, he’s the only one in his circle to take that step.
"I know people who have been out of work for over a year. They’re getting desperate. They want to find different jobs. They want to make themselves more valuable, get some sort of
different education in a different industry," he said.
"A lot of them talk about [going to university]. It’s just pulling the trigger. I think a lot of people have a hard time making a big change like that."
Besides the current economy, McFarlane said he’s simply ready for a change. Although he loved welding in high school and was excited to pursue it as a career (which he thought would last for life), he says he got bored of it after just a few years.
He tired of switching job locations every few months, never knowing where the next job would be. Teaching in a warm classroom has appeal after
years of spending 12 to 16 hours a day outside, rolling around on his back in the dirt, in the rain and snow, freezing in the winter and getting burned by his own torch.
"I can do that now because I’m young, but I see a lot of older welders ... they’re pretty miserable," McFarlane said. "I don’t really want to turn into one of those guys."
Although he didn’t think of himself as smart in high school (he barely passed his courses, but then again, he barely tried), he’s now a diligent student.
"It’s pretty fun. I’m excited to actually learn," he said. "Now I’m actually applying myself and doing really well so
it’s kind of cool to prove to myself that I can actually do this whole school thing."
What about the money?
While the working conditions in the oilpatch are far from cushy, the sector allowed McFarlane to pull in an annual income in excess of $150,000 as a welder and more than $200,000 as a weld inspector. This income enabled him and his wife to save considerable sums over short periods and take extended time off to travel the world.
"I realize I’m not ever going to make that much as a teacher, probably not even close, but we’ve taught ourselves to live on not very much and we understand that we don’t need that
much to live a happy life doing what we love," McFarlane said.
"Lots of my co-workers think I’m silly going into education with cheques like that but, I don’t know, I don’t really care too much about it."
Bridge program available
In 2010, the Alberta Teachers’ Association collaborated with Alberta Education and post-secondary institutions to create the CTS Bridge to Teacher Certification Program, which enables school boards to access provincial funding to allow tradespeople to work in the classroom while completing a teacher-preparation program offered by an Alberta post-secondary institution.
Archer Lucie Filion shoots for a personal best in all situations
When Lucie Filion sets her sights on something, look out.
Currently in the crosshairs for the retired teacher and competitive archer is the 2016 World Field Archery Championship that takes place in Dublin at the end of September.
"I’m very happy to be able to be on the Canadian team," said Filion, who
qualified for the event in a recent competition.
To tune up for the games, Filion recently competed in the Canadian championships, where she won two gold medals in the masters class (for middle-aged competitors), and the American Masters Games, where she earned a bronze. (She’s thinking about trying to raise her score enough to have a shot at the next Olympics).
Her training involves three to four hours of daily practice, which has her taking anywhere from 100 to 200 shots. Due to the shoulder strength and stability required for her discipline, she is also no stranger to the home gym she has set up in her basement.
At 58, Filion is both an old-timer and a relative newcomer to the sport. She first took up archery at age 11 while growing up in Quebec. She immediately displayed a natural talent and a taste for the winners’ podium. However, when she entered her 20s, she put away her bow to focus on her burgeoning career and family.
It wasn’t until 30 years later, in 2012, that Filion decided to get back into the sport. This desire brought her to an archery store, where, using a borrowed bow, she peppered the middle area of the target.
"The guy said, ‘You still got it, lady,’ so I bought a bow."
Archery equipment changed a great deal during Filion’s time away, and she’s still learning about all the new gadgets that are available. In the meantime, she has demonstrated that she’s one of the best in Alberta and Canada in the recurve category, which employs a classic curved bow, as opposed to the compound bow (identifiable by the pulleys at the top and bottom), which provides a greater mechanical advantage and precision.
For Filion, the appeal of archery is explained by the French word dépassement, which means overtake. She is constantly looking to surpass herself.
"It’s awesome to be able to shoot," she says.
While Filion likes the purposeful travel and social aspects of competing nationally and internationally, she also finds appeal in the calm that comes over her while shooting.
"It’s a peace of mind, being one with your target and shooting," she says.
This ability to clear one’s mind is crucial to success in archery.
"You need to be stable, every arrow," Filion says. "If there’s something bothering you, you’ll see it at the target, so you have to have a clear mind."
Although she often competes in the master category (for middle-aged competitors), at the upcoming games in Ireland Filion will compete in the senior category, which is for anyone aged 21 and over. Filion says she doesn’t have a particular goal other than to do her best.
"I’m not looking for a medal. I’m looking to be able to achieve a score, to achieve something, at least, for my country and for myself," she says.
The pursuit of one’s personal best describes Filion’s approach to life in general, and it is an approach she advocates for anybody, regardless of
age or ability.
"Do what you dream to do in your life," Filion says. "If you want to do art, go for it. If you want to do sport, you have that ability. Just go for it."
Teachers, in particular, can benefit from looking after themselves as well as they look after their students.
"We want our teaching to help kids to be the best they can be," she says. "We still have that ability, but we forgot about ourselves. We should do stuff for ourselves, because we’re going to be the best example for our kids."
Although she retired from teaching in 2013, Filion still teaches on contract
each year. Last year she taught kindergarten at Dunluce School in Edmonton.
Filion’s interests aren’t restricted to archery. An active, energetic and adventurous person, she entered the 2015 Winter World Masters Games in long-track speedskating, despite having never done this style of skating. Armed with a few lessons, a bit of practice and borrowed skates, she propelled herself to a bronze medal in the 3,000 metres, as well as three fourth-place finishes in other distances.
Her next endeavour will be skiing, a sport she hasn’t touched for years after competing in it when she was young.
Taking on this new challenge is all part of Filion’s philosophy that life is for doing.
"There’s a world for us [older people]," she says. "We’re not dead."
As only the third University of Alberta Golden Bear drafted to the CFL since 2001, David Beard’s second-round draft to the Edmonton Eskimos in 2015 has been a major milestone in this Sherwood Park native’s life. Because he played defensive lineman for several years, including during his first two years with the Golden Bears, his switch to offence has made him a player to watch, not least because he caught two passes for 31 yards and a touchdown in his 2014 Golden Bear season.
Beard graduated from Bev Facey High School, in Sherwood Park, and is currently completing a degree in kinesiology. Several teachers have been important to Beard through his formative years, but he reflects that it was his Grade 11 and 12 social studies teacher, Mrs Karen Holt, who was passionate about teaching and who also influenced his approach to maintaining a positive work–life balance.
Reflecting back, Beard remembers the way that Holt talked to her students about history and was able to make them take an interest in the material they were learning, stating that "She was passionate about what she taught."
Beard explains that Holt was able to help him develop his study skills and the ability to tap into his memory bank by recalling what he had learned for exams and assignments.
"My memory tells me that a lot of my study skills flourished when I was in that class, which has helped me as I have continued my studies and into university," he explains.
Beard also gave skiing lessons to Holt’s two children, creating lasting memories of her role, outside the classroom, as a parent. This experience was influential in Beard’s life because he was able to see Holt successfully balance her job and her personal life. Beard explains that he could see how much Holt
cared for her family and her students, excelling at two challenging roles. These are qualities that motivate him now as he begins his career as a professional athlete.
Beard explains, "Mrs Holt modelled her career. She seemed to do an exceptional job, being a skilled teacher and also caring for her family. She showed dedication to both areas of her life." He adds, "Separation of career and family life and doing the best you can for both areas of your life is important. She provided a very good example for me and my classmates."
Beard is passionate about his career and has nine classes left in his degree, which he is committed to finishing. "As
a football player you have challenges like any other career, but the way she excelled is the way I want to excel."
As a former student who played sports throughout high school, he advises students wondering what the future will bring that school is "Time to be cherished. It is something you need to prioritize not because people tell you to, but because it is going to make your life better."
He adds, "It may be challenging in the moment but it is something that creates opportunity you can’t even imagine at the time. School is the building block of who you will become when choosing the career path you take."
Former student of Jasper Place High School MLA Thomas Dang is quickly finding his feet representing Edmonton-Southwest at the Alberta legislature.
The surprise upset of the Progressive Conservatives’ leadership of the province has meant that Dang has put his computer science studies at the University of Alberta on hold to take up a seat at the legislative assembly as one of 53 NDP MLAs.
Dang doesn’t shy away from sharing that he was a "total geek in high school," and almost all his teachers left a positive impact on him. Dang states, "They all know who they are," yet he points to Donovan Wright, who runs the communications technology program at Jasper Place High School as a key influence on his education throughout high school. "He was always someone who supported me. It didn’t matter if I’d made some sort of mistake or had done something wrong, Wright helped me reach my full potential in all the work I did with him."
Dang adds, "I think a lot of his influence was through encouraging me to go out and do what I wanted to. It
was that ability to say ‘Well why don’t you try it and find out? It’ll be a learning experience’ and then provide a little bit of guidance that I really found useful."
In particular, Wright let Dang set up and restore his own photo developing studio within the classroom. "They had long since stopped using film, but I love shooting film so he helped me both set up and learn how to develop film."
Wright also let Dang take a leadership role in setting up the Jasper Place High School daily news program (JPTV). This included lights programs for the shows and events the school put on and other events of this nature.
Reflecting back on this time, Dang feels strongly that these experiences helped him get to where he is today—the youngest serving MLA in Alberta’s history. "These leadership opportunities shaped my teenage years in a way that has allowed me to develop into someone who goes out and says ‘I want to work hard at everything I do, and I want to work hard to help others.’"
Dang is a believer in making connections with teachers by finding shared interests that help the time spent in class to be more engaging and help students to excel. He explains, "Your teachers are people, too—they have families, they have interests, and they have goals and dreams. There is a
very good chance that you will have a shared interest with them. Maybe it’s hockey, maybe it’s a new TV series, and maybe it’s something else entirely. But these little connections, they are what form the greatest relationships between students and teachers."
Dang’s relationship with Wright has extended into his career. Wright helped Dang campaign for his seat in Edmonton-Southwest and they still get together every so often to catch up, more as friends than as teacher and student.
Dang’s message to students in school today is to remember that "Teachers are here to impart their knowledge to us, and sometimes students take that
for granted. I think sometimes we lose sight of these small victories, and being able to remember that teachers are here to help students advance themselves, and recognizing when you’ve achieved, even a small bit, goes a long way."
"The number of times Wright helped me is enormous. One of the things he always let me have was an unbelievable amount of freedom and trust."
By Jacqueline Louie
Art teacher Jonathan Eschak is doing all he can to expand his students’ experience of art.
At Archbishop MacDonald High School, in Edmonton, Eschak teaches art to students in Grades 10 through 12, as well as International Baccalaureate (IB) Grades 11 and 12. Armed with a BEd and a BFA from the University of Alberta as well as a printmaking background, Eschak offers his students the opportunity to create art using a
wide range of 2-D and 3-D media. "It expands their experiences," he says.
Eschak also tries to broaden students’ horizons by offering a week-long summer art camp aimed at IB students but open to other art students at Archbishop MacDonald. Art camp allows students to work together without the pressure of marks, to explore media, take risks, make mistakes and learn from them.
"It’s an opportunity to experience art in a more pure form, to try something out and see what happens," Eschak explains. "Art camp is about learning through play."
Eschak began offering art camp in order to support and build his school art program. "I’m always looking at my program, trying to improve it and trying to keep student engagement up. My goal is to share my passion with students and, hopefully, make them lifelong lovers of art. They don’t have to become artists." Rather, this art teacher, now in his seventh year, wants students to see the possibilities of art, to understand art, and to realize that art isn’t something scary.
Eschak has had some professional success of his own. His collaboration with fellow BFA graduate Kelly Mellings is on permanent display at the Edmonton Clareview LRT station.
Eschak says that he has "received phenomenal school support" for his art program, works hard to find deals so that students can have their own art supplies, instead of having to use a communal class set. For instance, he wants students to have their own tubes of paint. "They take better care of the materials when they own them," he explains. "They learn to take care of the materials and respect them. Ownership is huge. And it probably gets them to transition from ‘student artist’ to ‘artist.’"
Eschak is now working on an MEd at the U of A. His philosophy toward art education is that art involves risk. "If you’re not a risk taker in art, you’re not going to grow to what you could be,
and you really limit yourself in what you’re willing to try, in terms of media and even subject matter." He also believes that art is a both a learned skill and a practised skill. "You get better the more you practise," he explains.
Following those beliefs is how he has set up his entire art program. "Although there are people who are more inclined to success in art, I don’t truly agree with people who say they just can’t do it. I honestly believe that if you come in with the right attitude, are willing to take risks, and are willing to learn from your mistakes, that growth is possible."
In a new outdoor classroom in Calgary, students get to learn, explore, work, dream and play. It’s a place filled with teaching tools from the natural world, including native plants, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, and flowers. And the students helped design and build it.
This forest ecosystem, or food forest, is situated on the grounds of King George School, a public K–6 French immersion school. The forest was built this past spring by the entire school community—20 teachers, 470 students and parent council volunteers.
Occupying a 50-by-80-foot space that was once an empty field, the forest ecosystem is now home to saskatoons, cherries, raspberries, honeyberries, plums and crabapples, as well as native plants such as the fragrant wolf willow, larch trees and pussy willows.
"We were trying to keep this as natural as possible. We planted flowers for bees to pollinate. We wanted to have pathways and some stumps to sit on," says Grade 5 student Medina, a member of the school’s Energy Club. "We wanted to create a space where kids could explore nature and learn, without the need to consume a lot of energy. They could go out and learn through looking, touching and using all
of their senses, instead of just sitting at a computer or reading a book."
Grade 4 student Sarah, also an Energy Club member, says, "I liked learning about the different ways that plants and animals cooperate to make an ecosystem. The whole school was pretty interested in that."
Designing and installing the forest ecosystem was part of a larger project for the students, who were studying energy production, consumption and storage. The ultimate goal was to raise awareness, and then consider how the school could reduce its energy consumption and minimize its ecological footprint by adopting more energy-efficient systems.
"We talked about how we can transform our space, both inside and out," says assistant principal Shafina Dharamsi.
The forest ecosystem "was designed as a human-centred landscape, and the kids were very much a part of that design," says parent Karima Ismail, coordinator of the school’s Nature Grounds Committee, a parent group that spearheaded the development of the forest ecosystem. "They wanted trees for shade, rocks to jump on and fruit to eat."
To this end, the school called on reGenerate Design, a Calgary-based company that offers urban design and permaculture services. During the
consultation process, the designers went into every classroom to ask students what plants and other elements they wanted in the food forest. The designers spoke in English, and the teachers followed up in French, so that students could also learn the French terminology.
The parent council wanted to create an authentic learning experience on the school grounds. The forest ecosystem has brought about that and more.
"The students have learned that all plants are important in an ecosystem," says teacher Lorraine Fafard.
"I feel like we’re on our way to becoming an eco-friendly school and
helping the environment," Medina says. "The food forest helps us understand that animals and plants need different resources. It teaches us that we can’t just take everything."
"I had a lot of very good teachers," says the Calgary-based food and travel writer, who grew up on a farm south of Wetaskiwin and attended Clear Vista School for Grades 1–9 and Wetaskiwin Composite High School for Grades 10–12.
Teachers he remembers fondly include Ruby Nelson in Grade 1; Howard Pearson in junior high; Madame Cumming, who taught him French in high school; and Keith Digby, his high school drama teacher, who went on to become the artistic director of Bastion Theatre in Victoria.
If he had to choose, though, Gilchrist’s favourite teacher would be B J Castleman, his high school English teacher.
"He was an American draft dodger from Texas and a very smart man," Gilchrist recalls. "He was very well versed in the world of English literature, and a very engaging teacher. He spoke very well, and treated us like we were intelligent human beings. He treated us with respect, and we did likewise. He always kept it fresh, and somehow made things like Shakespeare and the Renaissance authors come alive."
Gilchrist credits Castleman with sparking his interest in the theatre.
Gilchrist went on to work in professional theatre for 14 years, with the Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary and with a number of touring theatre companies. Castleman also directed the school choir, which Gilchrist sang in throughout his high school years. Castleman "made that kind of performance something you wanted to do," Gilchrist recalls. Canadian actor Jackson Davies (The Beachcombers) was another student at Wetaskiwin Composite High School who benefited from having Castleman as a teacher.
"He gave people the confidence and the knowledge," Gilchrist explains. "When you’re 15 or 16, you’re not exactly prone to getting in front of other people and talking. [Castleman]
made it seem more like a normal, fun activity. Whether it was singing in the choir or performing in high school drama, it became an engaging activity, a desired activity—something that was cool and comfortable to do."
Gilchrist is the author of the best-selling My Favourite Restaurants and My Favourite Cheap Eats guides, which cover Calgary, Banff and area restaurants.
He reviews restaurants for CBC Radio One and the Calgary Herald, and teaches food and culture in Continuing Education at the University of Calgary. He also does travel study programs, also through U of C Continuing Education, organizing international food
tours. His groups have been everywhere from Paris to Berlin to Bangkok to New York—"wherever there’s food, we shall go there." For his next travel study, in spring 2013, he’s off to Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Currently, Gilchrist is working on an iPhone app called Eat Canada, for which 10 of the country’s top food and restaurant writers will contribute sections for their cities. The app is scheduled for release this fall.
By Earl J Woods
Ottilia Baier—affectionately called Tilly by her friends and colleagues—concluded 52 years of science and mathematics teaching this summer. Of those years, 45 were spent at Altario School in east-central Alberta, just this side of the border with her native Saskatchewan.
Born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, in the late 1930s, Baier has had first-hand experience of decades of evolution in education. But it didn’t always come easy. She attended a one-room school
for her first nine grades and found the transition to high school difficult. She was failing Grade 10 until the principal took her under his wing. He even personally registered Baier at the University of Saskatchewan, where she earned her education degree.
According to Baier, "His encouragement placed an onus on me to do everything I can for any student who will accept assistance."
Since the dawn of her teaching career in 1958, Baier has done exactly that—in many cases, mentoring three generations of Altario families. And she’s seen profound changes during her five decades of teaching—from
advancing technology to shifting cultural attitudes.
"I just entered the teaching profession around the time that more and more students began to complete high school in rural areas instead of quitting in Grade 11 or 12," Baier explains. "Lots of kids left school before graduating because they could get a good job at the bank, for example, with just their Grade 11."
Now even a high school diploma isn’t enough, Baier says. These days a postsecondary education is almost essential for most students—a phenomenon that has led, in her mind, to greater social equality.
"When I started, teachers were looked on with more respect and esteem; I might have been the second or third person in town with a degree. Nowadays you’re just another human being as far as people are concerned, and I think that’s change for the better. No matter where you are these days, there are a lot of well-educated people, and teachers are just regular folks like anyone else."
Classroom tools have also changed. The blackboard and chalk, potent symbols of public education, have given way to Smart Boards, interactive whiteboards that would have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel earlier in Baier’s career.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the ease with which teachers and students can access information. Baier remembers how she and her fellow teachers agonized over whether the school’s budget had room for encyclopedias; now, she says, everything is at your fingertips.
"Of course, you want to make sure that all that information on the Web is correct, and it’s just as important not to overburden students with too much information," she notes.
Though she has retired to her ranch near Altario, Baier still stands ready to mentor students and young teachers (as long as doing so won’t take work from substitute teachers). She says,
"There are so many things to be grateful for. I think of the parents and students who supported me unconditionally and gave me their respect, [and] my coworkers, administrators and board members who treated me kindly and with encouragement. I had the best students in the world and very good parents. I owe a tremendous debt to all who allowed me to touch their lives."
The thousands of math and science students who benefited from Tilly Baier’s mentorship surely consider that debt paid in full, with interest. May she enjoy a long, happy and rewarding retirement.
By Earl J Woods
Children today have a seemingly innate ability to use the technology that surrounds them, often outstripping their parents’ skills when it comes to navigating smartphones, tablets, PVRs and computers. To many adults, it often seems as though kids know more about cutting-edge technology than we do. How can today’s teachers connect with children who are growing up in the digital era?
According to Mike Somkuti, a young teacher of science and career and
technology studies (CTS) at Monsignor Fee Otterson Elementary/Junior High School in Edmonton, you connect by building bridges—in his case, bridges made from plastic Lego bricks.
For Somkuti, it’s not enough that students know how to use technology; he’s teaching them how technology works. And to accomplish that mission, he’s using a beloved child’s toy not only to help students understand technology but also to help them discover their own talents and aptitudes.
Somkuti’s tools include Lego Mindstorms robotics kits, which he uses to teach problem solving and the logic of computer programming to
Grades 7 and 8 students. Students first assemble the kits—with or without the instruction booklet, depending on their aptitude and the complexity of the kit—and then experiment with the associated software to program the finished robots to perform simple tasks.
"The software, a graphic programming language, helps students understand how computers think," Somkuti explains. "They learn the logic of if-then statements, for example. If they program something and they try the robot out, they see that robot do the thing they programmed in the real world, which is much more gratifying than just seeing a line of code change."
Somkuti describes Lego as the window he uses to introduce students to the fundamentals of technology, but it doesn’t stop there; he also teaches students to use more sophisticated programming languages, such as Kodu, which is used to program Microsoft’s Xbox video game system. One assignment challenges students to achieve certain goals in virtual amusement parks while working within Kodu’s limitations, and Somkuti has been delightfully surprised by the results: "Sometimes they even surpass the teacher. I remember one girl who initially showed no interest in computers. She made this extremely sophisticated, multilevelled program where one character would walk through this magical kingdom and then
she’d disappear and end up somewhere else. . . . I don’t know how she did it, but she did. It was really, really neat to see."
How do students respond to the robotics kits and programming exercises? CTS is a mandatory class at Monsignor Fee Otterson, Somkuti explains, so naturally some students love it while others are less enthusiastic.
"Kids that struggle in other classes can excel in Lego robotics, and they can become leaders," Somkuti says. "They can really shine in these classes." And he notes that the student who programmed a magical kingdom in Kodu may have never discovered her aptitude for computers had CTS not been mandatory.
Somkuti’s methods work at younger grade levels, as well. He relates the tale of a Grade 4 student working with a standard, non-robotic Lego kit: "This kid—who can barely write a sentence, who has struggles expressing his learning in that way—tells me how he’s building an elastic band car, and how this car was going to convert potential energy that’s stored in the elastic band into kinetic energy to make the car move. He used those words! That’s the power of giving a student the right tools to show their learning."
"It’s awesome to see kids who struggle in other subjects light up and become leaders in their own classrooms," Somkuti adds.
Ultimately, Lego is merely a tool Somkuti uses to achieve his primary goal.
"My job as a teacher is to prepare students for the world and their future," Somkuti says. "That’s why I want them to understand how this technology works. Ultimately, my goal is to make them less passive users of technology and more active users of technology. I’m giving them tools that they’re going to be able to use for the rest of their lives."
Going travelling. Pursuing a career. Or just plain having fun, learning something new. Learning to speak Chinese can bring many opportunities for Canadian students, and that knowledge of a second language can serve them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
"This language can open doors for them in the future, in the job market," says Chinese culture and language arts teacher Ji Xu, an instructor in Edmonton’s Chinese bilingual program at M E LaZerte High School.
Established more than three decades ago in conjunction with the Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association, a parent group, the Chinese bilingual program is now offered at six elementary, four junior high and three senior high schools in Edmonton’s public school system.
At M E LaZerte High School, students learn up to 150 characters in their first year of Chinese, and by the third year they should be able to read 1,000 characters, according to Xu—a good foundation for learning the Chinese (Mandarin) language.
"To speak basic Chinese or read a daily newspaper online, you need to know only 2,400 Chinese characters," she
says, noting that while the majority of students who enrol in the Chinese bilingual program are of Asian heritage, there are students from other backgrounds as well.
"Through this course, we hope to provide them with the opportunity to have some functional language skills," Xu says. "If they go to a restaurant, they can at least order food or have a daily conversation. That’s the goal of three years of high school language and culture."
Studying Chinese can serve students in good stead for the future. After studying Mandarin in high school, Xu notes, they should have learned enough to be able to land a job in a
Chinese-speaking environment, such as a Chinese grocery store. "They can converse with customers at a very basic level," she says.
"In my school, compared with the other second languages offered (French and Spanish), Chinese is viewed as the most difficult one, because learning Chinese is almost like learning two languages," she says, explaining that this is because the Chinese writing system—Chinese characters—do not convey sound. "You have to learn the sound of all those characters, and at the same time recognize them and know what they mean. If they can learn Chinese, I think there is a very good chance they can learn any language," she smiles. "This is a test of their determination and their character."
But it isn’t all hard work and no play. In addition to the language, students learn about many different aspects of Chinese culture, including history, geography, painting, calligraphy, paper cutting, dough art, knotting and Tai Chi. Also cultural clubs, run by Chinese program students, are open to the entire school. For instance, there is a yo-yo club, whose members practise weekly, learning tricks and preparing for performances. And Xu opens her classroom to allow students to play ping-pong twice a week during lunch hour.
M E LaZerte has a twinned school in China’s Shandong province, and M E LaZerte’s Mandarin program students have the opportunity to visit China as part of their studies.
By Jacqueline Louie
Canadian music star Corb Lund has always followed his own path and tried to be as unique as he possibly could. For that he credits his English teachers at W R Myers High School, in Taber. Lund describes Laurie Chomany, his Grades 8 and 9 English teacher, and Charles Hart, his Grades 10 and 11 English teacher, as people who followed their own path. "They encouraged unique expression in their students, mostly by example. They
walked to their own drumbeat," says Lund, 44, an international touring and recording artist with Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans. "They were interested in what they were teaching. They were both dynamic teachers who brought literature alive for me. They made it fun."
Born and raised in Taber, in southern Alberta, Lund describes himself as "a total nerd in high school. I wasn’t into what most kids were into at the time. There are always kids on the fringes, and I was one of those kids. I was into unusual things like old-fashioned music—not the popular music of the day. At the time I felt like an outsider, so the encouragement those teachers gave
me in my writing and self-expression was really valuable."
Today, a self-described subversive country songwriter and singer/performer, Lund calls his music "more individualistic music that doesn’t follow trends very closely."
It’s an approach that has worked well for him. "It was scary at the beginning, but I wanted to do it, so I did it," he recalls. "When you undertake a journey on an uncommon career path, it’s always scarier than getting a regular job. I think it’s important to just jump in, take your lumps and risk looking foolish. I always tell people to just go and do their own thing. It’s much more satisfying, and it usually works out."
Lund studied history and anthropology at the University of Lethbridge for two years then moved to Edmonton, where he studied music at Grant MacEwan Community College (now MacEwan University) and anthropology with a history minor at the University of Alberta. He’s just three classes short of his degree, but he notes, "My mom is the only one who cares." Lund jokes that his third album, Five Dollar Bill, which went gold in Canada, was his doctoral thesis.
Education has always been important in Lund’s family. Both of his grandmothers were teachers in rural Alberta. His grandmother Lund taught Grades 1–12 in a one-room school in Rosemary, and his grandmother Ivins taught on a
Hutterite colony near Cardston and on a southern Alberta Blackfoot First Nation. "My grandmother Ivins was really committed to phonics, which is one method of teaching reading comprehension. She had me studying phonics before I went into Grade 1," Lund says. "If I have any kind of facility with language, I credit my grandmas."
And he credits his grandfathers, who were ranchers and cowboys, for introducing him to western cowboy songs, ballads and oral history.
Lund is touring in Australia, England, the US and Canada through to November. He has also been doing a lot of flood relief concert work in southern Alberta.
In Doug Wilde’s classroom, math is lively and loud.
A veteran math teacher at Calgary’s Western Canada High School, Wilde believes that today’s students need two things: "One is the ability to be somewhat active. . . . The other is that they are really visual learners. They need to see something in front of them to really be engaged in what they’re doing." Most important, students need to "become part of the learning. They can’t just be sitting there receiving information—they’ve got to be able to
generate a lot of that information themselves."
Wilde’s classroom reflects his beliefs about student learning. "Kids in my classroom are used to constantly moving around the room discussing a problem. The model really supports collaborative learning."
Technology plays an important role in how Wilde presents his lessons. A tablet computer, for instance, allows him to randomize the class seating plan. "With the click of a button I can have the whole class . . . sitting with a new learning group." The tablet also allows Wilde to be completely mobile in the classroom—"to integrate with
the kids, and get them . . . sharing with me the things they are developing in the lesson."
The learning groups are key. There are four students per learning group, and they work together to come up with solutions to the day’s objectives, such as an activity sheet, a question with a real-world application or an algebraic problem. Wilde asks students to move several times, not just during one class period but also during one problem set. This way, students get "a perspective from a completely different group, with three new people." Usually, two or three students "have an in-depth knowledge" of what is being taught. Through moving those students around
the room, that knowledge goes "viral," as Wilde puts it.
Technology also allows Wilde to record lessons. "If I’m doing an example or a series of examples, I can . . . upload [them] onto the Internet," he says. "Kids that miss my class or that want to review a lesson can access any of these . . . on a computer at home, on a smartphone or on a tablet. It’s really handy." When some of his students went to Los Angeles on a band trip, they were able to jump onto the Internet at their hotel and watch a math lesson they had missed. When they returned to Calgary, they fit seamlessly back into the class.
Wilde, who has been teaching math for 23 years, has used this unorthodox method in his classroom for the past six years. "I have a bias here—I would say the results are outstanding," he says. "Low performers generally perform higher than they otherwise would, and high performers perform at or above the level achieved previously."
At the same time, Wilde doesn’t want to imply that a traditional teaching style is not as effective. "We as teachers at Western Canada High School teach in all sorts of ways, and they are all tremendously effective," he says.
From student to peer, provincial education minister David Eggen's relationship with his favourite teacher has been one of lifelong learning.
"I always reflected on my own grade school experience to draw from best practices, teachers that inspired me and helped me to learn mathematics and language skills and everything in between," said Eggen, in a break between meetings as newly re-elected New Democratic Party MLA for
Edmonton-Calder, now minister of both education and culture.
While Eggen says he had many great teachers, George Richardson, his Social Studies teacher at Salisbury Composite High School, who inspired his interest in the real-world implications beyond his classroom lessons and continues to be a mentor to this day, stands out.
But it was also Mr. Richardson's genuine care for the subject matter and for his students that Eggen says made him his favourite teacher.
"It opens a lot of doors for creating a safe and secure place for students to learn," Eggen said.
"The more you get to know your students, who they are, what they want and what they believe, what they hope and what they worry about, the more you do that, the easier the teaching becomes because you engage with them and you form this human connection," Richardson said, who has since moved from teaching grade school students to teaching aspiring teachers to teach as a professor at the University of Alberta.
A few years out of high school, Eggen reconnected with Richardson – this time as a young teacher in a classroom in Zimbabwe – on an international letter writing project, reaching across borders by making pen pals of their students.
"I was always looking up to experienced teachers that you could tell were masters of their profession," said Eggen. "You knew the skills that they had were not just curricular skills or subject area skills, but their capacity for leadership, their capacity for being a good council to young people."
Eggen said the lessons he learned from Richardson have benefitted him life-long, and he has said as much to him whenever their paths cross.
Richardson said Eggen was a bright student with a keen interest in what he was learning.
"At the heart of teaching is a human relationship between teachers and students, a bond they can form around learning. That bond means mutual respect, it means working to find out what potential students have and helping them to realize their potential," Richardson said, a message he hoped to impart when he was lecturing to young student teachers.
It was Richardson's interest in directing his students' potential that lead Eggen on a path from student, to peer, to MLA.
The lessons Edmonton Eskimo Gord Hinse learned from his Grade 3/4 teacher, Mrs Sylvia Hartley, still resonate with him today.
Hartley, who taught at St Gabriel School in Edmonton, "was big on language arts," says Hinse. Although Hinse was a good reader as a young child, he didn’t really enjoy it: "Reading was something I did at school. It was a necessary evil—I did it because I had to, like all homework."
After Hartley became his teacher, Hinse began reading because he wanted to. "She really got me realizing how much fun reading was, and how much I just loved to read books. I remember her being passionate about it, and I developed a passion for it too."
Reading had benefits beyond entertainment. Hinse says, "I just got more comfortable with using the English language, more comfortable with reading, with understanding what I was reading, and using language the way I wanted to."
That ease with language stood Hinse in good stead in high school and especially in university. Hinse, who has a BA in Native studies from the
University of Alberta, notes, "University isn’t easy. You have to study."
When he first enrolled, Hinse "flunked out." He says, "I didn’t know how to be a proper university student. Freedom kind of got away from me."
Hinse went to King’s University College in Edmonton for a year to upgrade his marks. He then returned to the U of A, enrolling in Native studies. "I fell in love with the faculty and what they were teaching. I found something I loved and just committed to it."
That hard work paid off: Hinse was an Academic All-Canadian for two years. "Even though I had a lot of success at the U of A with football, one of the
things I am most proud of is getting that [designation] for two years in a row."
Hinse, who played for the U of A Golden Bears for three years, graduated in 2012. Now in his fifth year in the CFL, he’s living his dream.
"I want to keep playing as long as I can. If I can play another five years that would be awesome," he says, noting that the average football career lasts only three years.
Another goal is going on for more education, "because a lot of degrees combined with a Native studies degree are very valuable."
"A lot of perseverance got me to where I am today," Hinse says. "I had my sights set on where I wanted to be, and didn’t let anything get in my way."
Guitar Club at the National Music Centre (NMC) is a place where Calgary teens learn to play the guitar, make friends and develop their self-confidence.
"I love going to Guitar Club! I get a chance to learn new things every time I go, jam with other students and express myself," says participant Kyra Kelly.
The NMC’s Guitar Club is a free after-school drop-in program that takes place on Thursdays from September to June
at the National Music Centre (NMC). Run by volunteer musicians from the community, Guitar Club is open to youth ages 13–19 of all levels and abilities. Anywhere from 12 to 20 students a week take part, playing a variety of musical genres from rock ’n’ roll and punk to classical.
"Generally they want to learn Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and all that stuff they’re into—and that’s cool," says National Music Centre education manager Kate Schutz. "It’s about learning to play guitar and performance skills, but mostly it’s about community, developing self-confidence and having an opportunity to have a positive relationship with an adult."
The NMC worked closely with Discovering Choices—an alternative high school program within the Calgary Board of Education—to develop Guitar Club, which Schutz hopes will be the first of many after-school programs offered by the NMC for youth in Calgary. Mike Good, a teacher with Discovering Choices’ downtown location, had approached the NMC looking for a place for a couple of students to play guitar—"A place where they could be loud, because the school is in an office building," Schutz explains.
Now going into its third year, Guitar Club provides guitars for students who don’t have a guitar of their own, as well as snacks each week and a hot meal donated by Grumans Delicatessen
once a month. The NMC tends to see a lot of at-risk youth because of its location in inner city Calgary, says Schutz, who describes Guitar Club as a safe place where students can build positive relationships with a mentor.
"The thing I think kids get out of it is a sense of community," says CBE teacher Travis McClelland, a guitarist and volunteer teacher with Guitar Club. "They support each other and they have fun."
A good example of that, he adds, is Gig Night, an annual event in June that everyone looks forward to. Gig night offers students an opportunity to play on stage at the National Music Centre, backed by a band. It is a free event that
students can invite family members and friends to. "They get up and play one or two songs. They all cheer for each other; they all support each other. That’s what Guitar Club is about—that sense of community," McClelland says.
All teens are welcome in Guitar Club if they have an interest in music. Participants range from beginners to experienced players who help mentor the beginners.
The NMC is always looking for adult volunteers to teach at Guitar Club, especially female mentors, since more than half of the students attending Guitar Club are girls.
"It’s really important to the NMC that all people have access to music," Schutz says. "We are very grateful to our donors and to the public who support our programming, so we can offer things like this for free."
To volunteer with Guitar Club or donate instruments and gear, please visit www.nmc.ca/musicians.
Instead of spending this past summer preparing lessons and enjoying a little rest and relaxation, teachers in High River spent long hours mucking out basements and helping their community recover from June’s disastrous flood.
"Teachers in the Foothills School Division and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools put themselves in harm’s way to help friends and neighbours get back on their feet," says Joel Windsor, a teacher at Notre Dame Collegiate, in High River, and
communications officer for the Alberta Teachers’ Association Chinook Local.
The June flood devastated the town of High River, including a number of schools. And that’s when teachers went into action, helping out from the first day that High River residents were allowed back into town—nine days after the flood till the end of July. Within the separate school division, Christ the Redeemer Catholic School Division teachers Catherine and Greg Gibbs coordinated a massive volunteer effort to help High River residents whose homes had been damaged in the June flood. They started with their families, neighbours, friends and colleagues and extended that helping hand to other residents of High River
who were hit hard by the flood. Approximately 200 teachers, educational assistants and support staff worked together to clean basements and move things to the dump. They worked "from sunup to sundown, and sometimes beyond," Windsor says.
Everyone who could lend a hand showed up, including the separate school division superintendent. "He was elbow deep in sewage, helping out."
Joining them in their clean-up efforts were teachers from other parts of the separate school division, who came from Okotoks, Oyen, Brooks, Strathmore, Canmore and Drumheller.
Those who weren’t able to spend a lot of time on the cleanup effort pitched in by helping with the recovery effort (for example, by coordinating newsletter distribution for the town to keep people up to date on what was going on).
Foothills School Division teachers were busy as well. Among other things, they organized a collection of school supplies for High River students going back to school this fall.
Teacher colleagues from across North America called with offers of help, school supplies, teaching resources and even classroom decorations.
"So many donations have come into the school division from all over North America," Windsor says.
Though the flood was a devastating blow to High River, teachers rallied to do everything they could to provide stability and continuity for students and their families and to support students and schools in the new school year.
"Teachers don’t turn it off over the summer, so when we have such a significant event like this, the first place our brains go—once we’ve figured ourselves and our families out—is to our students," Windsor says. "We had a lot of teachers who made it their mission to keep in contact with students and make sure they were OK. Another teacher made it her mission to find every ESL student to make sure they were all OK. In some cases, people gave up their vacation time to
help others." In the end, Windsor says, "We’re all in this together."
Mr. Ferby – his Grade 4 home room teacher at Nellie McClung Elementary School in Calgary - gave Demeanor his first exposure to singing and performing.
"He displayed just so much passion and commitment to what he was doing," says Demeanor, 42, a born and raised Calgarian who has been a working singer-songwriter for about 15 years.
When teaching music, Ferby "would pound away at the piano as we sang along. He really got the kids excited," recalls Demeanor, who has performed around the world and is a fixture in Calgary's spoken word, theatre and music scenes.
Ferby "affected me more than any other teacher, in a positive way. I liked the fact that he was so driven, and you felt this responsibility to do well because you wanted to please him. A teacher who can do that, is unique. He was able to focus my creative energy in a place where I was able to see a result that pleased me and that made me happy."
Poem for Mr. Ferby, Grade 4, Nellie McClung Elementary
If in his favour, a child would become acquainted with the bowl of white mints
If not- if a joker, disturbance, or even somewhat unlucky in character or acheivement,
The prospect was more likely becoming familiar with the sting of the blue ruler that lurked at the back of the slide out shelf. Four smacks on the open hand
I, a strong, respectful student, only
questionable thing maybe the uneven cut of my bangs
Was on the receiving end of not only candy, but pineapple smelly stickers, and plum roles in school musicals
I had never seen someone so purposefully punishing a piano- standing, bench pushed back, pounding like Jerry Lee, preacher like:
Live goes on! Bra! La la, how the life goes on!
The young choir matching his energy and attack with volume- more shouting than singing, a punk rock
Finally facing my Waterloo!
A new, visceral blast, this union of musical skill and abandon- in the future, I would relive the same kick of adrenalin going 200 km/hr on the Autobahn, smashing a cinder block with a sledge hammer, arguing with my spouse about the World Bank
His God-backed passion shook my pantheism, the reverence in the way he showed us so carefully and respectfully how to break in our new red Bibles so the binding could be warmed up and cracked after being stacked compactly in a box
"First in the middle- open and bend back the two halves. Now at the quarter point in the book. Quarter, Scott.......quarter. Now again at the
three quarter part. Open and bend back."
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo / Lived in Judah a long time ago
They had funny names and they lived far away / But they set an example we can follow today.
I was Meshach, and we proud Jews would not bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol- we would only worhip our Lord. And as we were thrown into the fire, seven times hotter than normal, angels grabbed us before we burned to reward us for our faith in Him.
This was where melody and discipline met, where I realized that music was what came out of the valve when necessity said ‘release the sanctimony and rage within’
Since our year together in the open air circle of a very Seventies concept school, where oranges, browns and yellows mixed with light moss greens, I too have stomped and sweat for those who don’t know why they’re here.
Religion I look on still with fascination and horror
But have not bowed to golden idols
I am protected
Even a little righteous
And have, for the most part, dodged the ruler and gorged on mints.
To music, music teacher!
By Jennifer Vandermeer
Linda Cook, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library, has had an exciting year. Earlier this year she received the 2014 Canadian Library Association (CLA) Outstanding Service to Leadership Award and the 2014 CLA Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award, and just recently, Edmonton Public Library was named the Best Library of the Year by Library Journal magazine.
Cook grew up in Alberta and attended Hazeldean Elementary in the Edmonton public school system. "There was no French immersion back then," she
reminisced. "I was first introduced to French in Grade 5." She said her French teacher stands out in her mind because "she introduced French in a fun way. It was so long ago, and I don’t think I ever knew her first name. I just knew her as Mrs. Poulet" said Cook, chuckling. "All of the kids behaved in that class and Mrs. Poulet was kind and gentle. Because we liked her, we automatically listened … you know how kids can be," Cook added.
Mrs. Poulet gave the class a French vocabulary project where the students had to translate French words into common English and write them in fun ways to present to the class. As a child, Cook was very shy and quiet; presenting to the class wasn’t
something she would normally like to do, but she was excited about the project. Cook and a friend made huge posters that were so big her parents had to carry them into the school for them. "Mrs. Poulet was amazed, and she was effusive in her praise," said Cook smiling, "She gave us an A++, the highest mark we could get!" The first word Cook chose to present to the class was, of course, chicken.
One other teacher that stands out in Cook’s mind is Mr. Ramsay, her homeroom teacher in Grade 4. "He was the first male teacher I ever had," Cook recalled. "He was one of those teachers that was everybody’s friend." Hazeldean wasn’t equipped with enough lockers for each student, so
Cook had to share her locker with another student named Linda. That was the year she met her best friend. They have stayed friends over the years, and although the other Linda lives in Toronto, they see each other about five times a year. "We will always be grateful to Mr. Ramsay for introducing us."
Edmonton Poet Laureate Mary Pinkoski’s favourite teacher encouraged her to follow her dreams and keep on writing.
Norm MacDonald was Pinkoski’s Grade 10 English and outdoor living teacher at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School, in Sherwood Park.
"He was my favourite teacher, mostly based on the encouragement he offered to me, as well as his sense of humour and a really distinct ability to pinpoint people’s talents and pull those
out of people—he could see you in a place you might not have recognized in yourself," says Pinkoski, Edmonton’s fifth poet laureate.
"One of the things that sticks with me is that he placed a real emphasis on storytelling in his own teaching style," she recalls. "That’s something I do quite strongly in my poetry. He was one of a collection of people in my life who showed the value of storytelling and the value of our lived experiences."
Born in Calgary, Pinkoski grew up in Fort Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park. She’s a spoken word poet who has travelled throughout North America representing Edmonton’s poetry scene, where she has been active as a poet
for nearly a decade. She placed third at the 2013 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam, making her Canada’s top-ranked female slam poet.
Pinkoski, 36, is also a teacher and mentor and leads youth and adult workshops on spoken word poetry across Alberta.
Learning to Swallow the River
(for Norm MacDonald)
By Mary Pinkoski
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are
timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs."
-A River Runs Through It
In 1992, the movie A River Runs Through It hit the big screen
just as I hit Grade 10 in a new school and a new city.
If I had to pinpoint it now, I would say that Grade 10 was when I learnt
there is nothing like a river to carry you into yourself.
Mr. MacDonald’s English 10 Advance Placement class happened mornings
in a classroom in the second level of the school.
Studying the stories of legends both ancient and contemporary,
I learnt quickly to match the fall of Achilles and Ajax,
Prian and Perseus to the fall of the leaves outside;
saw the quiet determined snow settling in rhythm with
Atticus Finch’s humility and steady, tempered passion;
watched winter seal the world shut like the lips of Hester Pryne.
I learned quickly that there were as many ways to find your path in this world
as there were legends to show us one.
As I sat in that class and journeyed into new worlds,
I was carried into the river of myself,
driven by Mr. MacDonald’s insistence to find our own voice
to find our own path. And I learnt to search for my own truths,
my own meanings in life and to write them.
Every river has its tributaries and sometimes the lesser branch,
the one off the map, outside your original destination,
is the one that leads you to the places you most need to find.
And so, afternoons marked a different kind of mythmaking,
another kind of journey: Outdoor Living 15 with Mr. MacDonald.
I don’t know how it happened.
I am sure when we began the year there were more than two girls in the class,
but by the time we had learnt that
one should not experiment with gun powder in the portables,
studied a hunting handbook,
and packed for a trip on the North Saskatchewan River
there were only two of us left in a forest of gangly boys.
I don’t think he necessarily distrusted the ability of two girls to navigate
the river in a canoe by themselves,
but nonetheless I found myself partnered with Mr. MacDonald
paddling him up the North Saskatchewan River
while he took the opportunity to take yearbook photos
all the while throwing out Dr. Hook’s Sylvia’s Mother Says into the wind
like some people throw caution to the wind, but there was no caution -
just the river, just the adventure.
It is interesting how despite the rush of the river,
despite the pace of its currents,
and its willingness to propel you forward
you can come to a stillness in yourself.
That autumn landing myself in a new school, new city,
sitting in a canoe in a river I had never journeyed before,
I found a journey and destination within myself.
A place I do not think that I could have come to without Mr. MacDonald
and his insistence that we all find the right place for ourselves in this world.
The North Saskatchewan River bends in so many places;
it is wandering and meandering body of water, a river with its own journey.
I can’t say which precise bend in the river it was, but I remember coming to stop
on a shallow bed in the river, Mr. MacDonald looking at me hard, saying:
"you cannot work in an office for your life, you better get a job that lets you
be outside. you are your best in the wilderness."
It seemed like nothing at the time,
just like the river seemed like nothing.
But under the push of the river, there were the words
and the words found themselves inside me like the journey.
It seemed like nothing at the time,
just like the truth sometimes seems like nothing,
until you are ready to takes its journey.
I have tasted the North Saskatchewan River twice in my life.
The first time I swallowed the river was in Grade 10,
on a canoe trip with stories of literary heroes in my brain,
the songs of Dr. Hook in the air,
and voice of Mr. MacDonald in my head.
For a man who knew how to read the river,
I have no doubt that Mr. MacDonald intended us to beach
for a moment in the gravel, to pause,
because, if he wanted to, he could read people a
as well as the river.
He created the moment and allowed me to swallow the river,
and under it his words -
he let the river begin to run through me.
BY Alison Hancox
This year, Project Overseas (PO) celebrated its 50th anniversary. Since 1973, PO has worked in Grenada in the areas of organizational and professional development, leadership training and fellowships, and inservice training.
For 2012, the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) identified the need to develop teacher professional growth in the six following areas: numeracy, literacy, special education, computers, visual arts and crafts, and leadership and management.
Leadership and management were my areas of instruction. I focused on the theme "leading for learning"—building highly effective schools through collaboration and developing schoolwide best practices in instruction and assessment. Elementary and secondary school principals ¬presented their leadership portfolios and provided evidence of their learning in leadership, instruction and assessment.
In total, 150 Grenadian teachers received 10 days of PD. In addition to instruction in the six content areas, team members offered instruction across all courses in multiple intelligences, classroom management, differentiated instruction, experiential learning, teaching strategies, education
technology (application of Smart technology, if appropriate), Bloom’s Taxonomy, assessment, gender equity in the classroom and profession, and HIV/AIDS education.
In addition to workshops and instruction, Karan Spoelder, team member from the Northwest Territories, raised $3,800 to purchase local school supplies, such as laminators for each region, art supplies and books for each school.
Getting an education can make the difference between living in poverty and a life with hope for a better future, says Calgary math teacher Favour Simoongwe.
Born and raised in Zambia, Simoongwe has seen first-hand how a good education can make a difference. That’s why he and his wife Fiona, also a teacher, took a year’s leave of absence from their jobs in 2012 and went to southern Zambia, where they managed a small orphanage for a year. They went as volunteers under the auspices of a Christian faith-based organization,
Zambia Mission Fund Canada, which in addition to caring for orphans, also sponsors young people to attend school and university.
"The goal is to help orphans and other vulnerable kids in Zambia," says Simoongwe, who vividly remembers a baby who arrived at the orphanage shortly after Christmas. Her mother had died just after her birth, and her extended family couldn’t afford to care for her. "I still remember their faces mixed with sadness and happiness when we told them they did not owe us anything and we would take her in and care for her, free of charge. We also told them they could come and see her any time and stay with us, also free of charge. It was a lifeline for them."
As managers of Kasensa Orphanage in southern Zambia, the Simoongwes supervised a staff of about 13, who cared for a dozen orphans and tended a garden and an orchard. When they weren’t busy with their duties running the orphanage, Fiona home-schooled their three young children while Favour volunteered as a teacher at a nearby high school two days a week.
The Simoongwes also did some professional development for Zambian teachers, serving as keynote speakers at two conferences. Favour, who was a math teacher at Crescent Heights High School in Calgary when he went on leave, spoke about teaching practices and improvisation, while Fiona, a kindergarten teacher at Glenbow
Elementary School in Cochrane, discussed reading, writing and phonetics.
While they were in Zambia, Favour kept in touch with the Crescent Heights community. The whole school rallied behind him, with his students at the forefront. "They made it a year-long project, fundraising approximately $3,000 for the orphanage," recalls Favour, who now teaches at James Fowler High School.
The Zambian people they met were grateful for everything. For example, Favour would sometimes provide handouts to the math students he was helping, who couldn’t believe he was giving them notes for free. "We never
had notes given to us like this before," they told him.
When he looks back at his family’s year in Zambia, Favour describes it as "a scratch on the surface of possibility and potential—a combination of the theory of teaching and practice. It was something we loved to do, and if other people could join in, it would be really great. The need is just so much. For sure, I would do it again if I could."
Innovative school program links generations by Jacqueline Louie
Friendship. Laughter. Building bridges between generations. That’s what one high school program in Calgary is all about.
Through SKIP (Seniors and Kids Intergenerational Program), 35 students from Western Canada High School have been paired with 17 residents of the Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence. SKIP was created three years ago by Dev Drysdale, the high school’s guidance counsellor.
"Our students embraced the idea of giving back to the community," explains teacher and off-campus learning leader Liza Bennett, who oversees and coordinates SKIP. Bennett has taught with the Calgary Board of Education since 1974. She took over SKIP’s directorship two years ago, after Drysdale retired. SKIP is "a win-win situation," she says, adding: "We need to have young people getting close to older people, because it restores a sense of community. It’s not only about kids making a difference in seniors’ lives. The seniors, with their experience and wisdom, have taught so many things to our kids." Seniors and students participate in many collaborative and fun activities
coordinated by Bennett and Jo Parker, the Fountains of Mission activity director. Activities include watching and discussing movies, doing crafts, and going for walks and out to restaurants. The seniors have taught the students strategy games and card games, including bridge.
"We all need to make connections," Bennett says. SKIP "adds to longevity for the seniors, and to greater appreciation for the teens. We have formed really great friendships. At SKIP, we laugh a lot. You know the kids are in the building. Everybody, from staff to residents, says: ‘It’s our lovely kids from Western.’ Everybody comes up feeling really joyful, including me. I can’t wait to get over there!"
Ben Pantony, 18, and Hunter Brett, 17, who graduated from Western Canada High School in June, began volunteering with SKIP last fall. They visited Fountains of Mission every second Friday, spending time with Magdalena Grayson, who turned 100 this spring.
"I wanted to learn from other peoples’ lifestyles and expand my horizons. I wanted to give back to the community," says Pantony, who has his sights set on playing rugby and studying to become a pilot at the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston. "SKIP has really taught me there are many different stages in life, and they are all just as enjoyable."
Brett says, "It’s such a great program that should continue on for many years. Kids should have the same experience that we’ve had. I’ve enjoyed this program so much."
Brett is heading to the University of Calgary this fall, where he will study geology and play varsity soccer. He plans to continue visiting Grayson "to keep that bond with her. She is such an amazing person. She gives back so much to everyone around her, with her wisdom, knowledge and warm personality. Everyone around her is always in a good mood."
Brett, Pantony and the many students who participate in SKIP "will always remember this experience," Bennett
says. "Our kids have compassionate hearts that go beyond their own self-interest. And that’s what I love about intergenerational programs—everybody wins. The students learn so much from the people who have gone before them."
"I find it extremely rewarding and touching. When I see the affection and the love that is born of this relationship, I just beam. These are the best extracurriculars I’ve ever done."
Rachel Notley’s favourite teacher helped set her on the path to politics.
The MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona drew inspiration from her high school social studies teacher, Jim Clevette, who taught at Fairview High School in the town of Fairview, six hours north of Edmonton.
"He had a good sense of humour and he made the topic interesting," says Notley, who remembers Clevette introducing her class to contemporary
social and political history, which helped her realize why history mattered.
Clevette had the class read the Leon Uris novel Mila 18, which is about the Warsaw uprising during the Second World War.
"I remember finding it fascinating and reading every single Leon Uris book ever written, even though his politics are not my politics," recalls Notley.
"Between really enjoying those topics and discussions in high school — and of course my own family context — the two came together to send me down the path I’ve gone, in terms of being very interested in politics."
Notley’s high school French teacher, Doreen Verschoor, also made a lasting impact.
"She was very good — she was very hard-nosed. You knew what you were doing when you were finished," says Notley, who only realized how much French she had actually learned after graduating from high school, when she took a year off to work as an au pair in Paris.
Notley, who holds an honours degree in political science from the University of Alberta and a law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, ended up focusing on labour law. She worked as a ministerial assistant to the attorney general in B.C. and for the
United Nurses of Alberta before being elected in 2008 to the Alberta legislature as a member of Alberta’s New Democratic Party.
She was elected NDP leader in October of 2014 and led the party to a majority victory in the May 5 provincial election.
This story was originally published as part of the Summer Series in 2014, when Rachel Notley was a leadership candidate for the Alberta New Democratic Party.
At École Dickinsfield School in Fort McMurray, worms have chowed down on 4,000 apple cores and banana peels in the past year. The worms have turned waste that would otherwise have gone to the landfill into rich compost, and the school is now using it to grow fresh food.
"Most kids love worms. They love how they squiggle and they’re all squishy and gushy," says École Dickinsfield Grade 3 teacher Kitty Cochrane, who is spearheading the worm composting project along with a variety of other
green initiatives at the dual track French-English elementary school.
After Fort McMurray voted to ban single-use plastic bags in 2010, Cochrane applied for and received a BP A+ for Energy grant for $10,000, which École Dickinsfield School used to provide each of its 700 students with a reusable bag and help them learn about the problems caused by plastic waste.
"Our whole school has always been interested in being more green. This was something we could do to help people change their habits," explains Cochrane, a 26-year teaching veteran who won an Excellence in Teaching Award in 2013.
As part of the school’s effort to reduce the amount of waste it produces, Cochrane and her class looked at what ended up in their garbage cans. They realized that much of it was lunch-related, with a lot of plastic. So Cochrane applied for and received another BP A+ for Energy grant for $10,000 to help the school embrace waste-free lunches, purchasing reusable lunch containers, water bottles and utensils, as well as washable cloth baggies. École Dickinsfield School also started emphasizing the importance of foods such as apples and bananas, which are not only healthy, but also come without packaging.
In just three weeks, school custodians noticed the amount of lunch waste had dropped by 70 per cent. In one year, École Dickinsfield slashed the number of garbage bags it sent to the dump by 1,200. "And that was just the lunch waste," Cochrane says.
"That was so successful, we looked in the garbage cans again and what was left was apple cores and banana peels."
So in 2012 École Dickinsfield began a vermicomposting (worm composting) project. With another BP A+ for Energy grant, the school bought red wriggler worms and eight "worm factories" (composting worm bins).
Under Cochrane’s direction, approximately 15 student volunteer "wormologists" in Grades 1–6 take care of the worms. The wormologists feed the worms chopped up banana peels, apple cores and other compostable lunch leftovers; they shred paper for the worms’ bedding; and they harvest the worm castings and put them out onto the school garden as compost. "They care for the worms so the worms can work for us," Cochrane says.
It was thanks to another BP A+ for Energy grant that École Dickinsfield was able to build its garden and outdoor experimental composting area, complete with a shed and six different types of composters. The Regional
Municipality of Wood Buffalo also pitched in, building five raised garden beds for the school garden.
"We are all growing in our environmental understanding and responsibility together, and we’re helping ourselves truly get better with our ecological footprint," Cochrane says. "We are a school that does this together. We’re teaching ourselves and our school families that with a little bit of time and a change of habits, you can have very little garbage, a whole cleaner world and some great food."
For years we’ve been monitoring the size and growing complexity of Alberta classrooms. We know that underfunding and classroom size have been primary concerns, and though funding has improved and new teachers are being hired it’s just not enough. From our research we know that:
Smaller classes create more opportunities for one-on-one interaction between teachers and students, greater individualization and enhanced student engagement.
The most important role of teachers is building strong, meaningful, professional relationships with students.
The 2003 Alberta Commission on Learning recommended the following targets for average class size:
Grades K–3 recommendation is 17 students
Grades 4–6 recommendation is 23 students
Grades 7–9 recommendation is 25 students
Grades10–12 recommendation is 27 students
Only 5 of 61 school boards are currently meeting the target average in K–3.
Additionally, averages across school boards hide too many significantly large individual classes. Firm class size limits would ensure effective learning environments for all students. 87% of Albertans support province wide standards for maximum class sizes.
Nearly three-quarters of Albertans support a limit of 20 students in K–3 and 25 in higher grades. And 60 per cent of Albertans believe the limit should be lower in classes with greater student diversity.
From “Beginner Teacher” Conferences to ongoing existing teacher support, the ATA actively encourages continued educational development. We offer a minimum of 10 workshops for our members to participate in. Additionally, we offer onsite presentations to all our communities. These specialized events are all taught by trained instructors and knowledgeable presenters. All topics are prearranged by the participants and facilitated by the ATA. From “Teacher Welfare” to “Community Involvement”, if the need is there we do our best to facilitate all requests. Though all of these initiatives are important, perhaps our biggest contribution to the constantly changing landscape of continued development has been our investment in our vast website Library. Access for our members is 24/7 and is quickly becoming the most responsive personal resource.
Our long standing professional relationship and partnership with the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) Alberta Division has been well documented. Through our own webinars, symposiums and fundraising initiatives we have encouraged all our members to be actively engaged in this important issue. It’s something that affects our students, teachers and our communities, and anything we can do to raise awareness has been an important priority to our members.
We belong to a large, worldwide network of teaching professionals and the communities they serve. For decades we’ve been comparing our programs and techniques with other high-ranking associations. Since then we’ve been internationally recognized and awarded for our systems, processes and people. From our ongoing educational partnership with Finland to our active engagement within the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) that works within the NTO internationally, we exchange professionals and work as organizers, volunteers, teachers and workshop facilitators on a global scale.
Everything we have done to date has been with two critical goals in mind: govern & protect. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that every teacher is actively encouraged to follow the policies given to them and to report any indiscretion immediately to their respective school administrator face-to-face. If we can instill in them a higher level of respect for their profession, then reports of breaking code of conduct will be considered a real professional obligation. Since 1995 the ATA has actively worked closely with the Government to streamline policies that allows us to act more promptly and immediately than ever before. Giving us a faster response and resolution in dealing with indictable offenses that affect, pupils, school authorities, colleagues and others in our profession.