It brings a smile to my face when I look back and recall just how I came to the profession that I now am truly passionate about and fully committed to. My very best friend at the time decided to become a teacher, so after little thought I concluded that I might as well do the same. We were going to the same teachers college and we could share a room and continue our friendship. Why not? As it turned out, she taught for only a short time whereas I grew eventually to love teaching. As I reflect, it seems that over the years it has often been what I have done outside the classroom that has motivated me to remain in the classroom.
Before my oldest daughter was born, I resigned my position and had no intention of ever returning to the classroom full-time. I immediately signed on as a Guider with Girl Guides of Canada. For the next 15 years my daughters got carted off to every kind of guiding activity while I took on a wide variety of roles in the organization and eventually became an International Advisor. My love of camping and the outdoors was a strong motivator. During this same time, financial pressure pushed me back into the classroom as an occasional teacher. It was during those years that my confidence as a teacher began to increase and I began to value myself as an educator. Finally, my husband’s illness left me little choice but to return to teaching full-time.
It was a very different person who stepped into the classroom from the one who had abandoned it years earlier. For some years I had been heavily involved in pursuing my First Nations roots and learning about my forgotten cultural heritage. In this new beginning, my heritage played a definitive role in my teaching. It seemed natural to incorporate the ideas and teachings that I had gleaned from my heritage into what I did, and continue to do, in my classroom. I now had much to share and much less time to share it in.
Each year, I set out to make my classroom a unique learning place so that my students would sense from the beginning that they have arrived somewhere special . . . as special and unique as they are! People need to feel that they are valued and are in a place created to honour their uniqueness in the world. I include the colours of nature in my room and there are lots of green plants. I have tried to create a calming, soothing, and safe place.
TALKING CIRCLES ARE A MAJOR FOCUS.
I use a talking stick that I have carved myself, which depicts the Seven Grandfathers. It is in the circle that we learn to communicate with each other, to listen attentively and respectfully, to feel respected, to share our feelings and thoughts, and to problem solve. Each member of the class is recognized as an equal who is valued and critical to the success of the whole group. Sometimes we go into the forest to build debris huts. I allow the students to lead and assist each other as they use sets of skills, develop ideas, and solve problems. When they come out of the forest, they have new confidence and have established a sense of community that will carry them through the entire school year.
I have come to understand that building self-esteem and developing a sense of community where every member feels valued and empowered is critical in all that I do. When people are confident, have strength of character, and have the strategies to problem solve, they are equipped to deal with whatever life may offer them. Students are then able to take on the challenges of a classroom and in many instances a huge variety of expectations in their homes, and they are better able to learn.
They are more prepared and willing to contribute positively to their classroom, school community, and families.
In my work in ETFO during the past several years, I have served on a variety of committees. It is just as critical in this setting to create an inclusive community where all members are valued, respected, and encouraged. This focus is also at work in my large, extended family. Three or four generations regularly share tasks, food, and laughter, and also come together for support and problem solving.
These values have led to my keen interest in and involvement with equity and social justice issues. What can I model for others? How can I empower others and create a more inclusive community and world? I try to find and create ways that each person, including myself, can bring greater awareness and appreciation of diversity into their lives and extend and broaden their view of the world. We are indeed all one family under the same sky.
I have grown very comfortable under my white hair and am now growing into the role of elder. I embrace the role of mother and grandmother and feel privileged that our house is home to three generations of my family, with my own mother living nearby. My grandson, Rariwhisaks, is the sixth generation of our family to make his home on the lake where we are able to live close to nature and those things and people that we value.
It has become clear to me that my role is that of caregiver, nurturer, and guide. I want those I come into contact with to realize that they have many talents and are valued as human beings, and that our home, classroom, or meeting room is a safe, inclusive, and supportive refuge. I recognize as I grow into of the role of grandmother or elder that I must embody the true meaning of integrity – to walk the talk and to be authentic – and model it for future generations. I am what I teach.