Young people are profoundly influenced by the people in their lives and and especially by what they learn early in life and teachers are often the people most involved in children’s early learning, sometimes as much or even more than parents or guardians. Most of us can think of one person, usually a teacher who has profoundly impacted us in one way or another. For me, there were two teachers, one in grade seven and another in grade eleven. Their names escape me but their faces and their words remain with me as these teachers inspired me to move toward my goals and to pursue my interests despite the obstacles and there were many obstacles along the way! My grade seven teacher saw me for my potential and everything she said and did confirmed this for me until I realized that going to university was a given and part of the path that I would take in life. The other teacher brought her passion for literature and classical music into her English 11 class and I was hooked for life. I had grown up listening to old time jazz and big band, but never classical and I was so incredibly overwhelmed that I recall going to my locker and being unable to remember my lock combination to get into my locker. Today, my career as an educator and my love of classical music are part of my life and two classroom teachers brought them alive for me.
Imparting knowledge is not necessarily the most important thing teachers do. Teachers in classrooms and within families or communities can inspire students – inspire them to see themselves in ways that can lead to life goals and enriched lives. Teachers can inspire students to see the potential in themselves; to see the goodness in themselves, in others, and in the world around them. Many young activists have been nurtured by teachers in their lives. 10-year old Ta’Kaiya says ‘Protect our coast from oil spills’ discovered her passion and by age 11, has impacted the world through her public performances and her youtube presentations which shows her concern for the environment and the preservation of marine and coastal wildlife. A young Heiltsuk man has no doubt inspired many people within and beyond his community. His testimony at a hearing about proposed tanker traffic near Bella Bella touched the hearts and minds of people both within and beyond the community. William Housty may not even be aware that his youtube posting is being used in English First Peoples 10 – 12 classrooms across BC. At the Koeye camp in August, I was as deeply moved by a young man who is obviously being mentored by William. In the Heiltsuk language, he spoke as powerfully as any elder as he gave the historical background and meaning for each of the dances that the children performed. The culture is in good hands in this community and these two young men can attest to that.
The Bella Bella community has a strong and abiding legacy about its commitment to the education of the children. An early NFB film illustrates the commitment of a few people who had a vision for the community. They wanted to build a school so that children would no longer have to leave the community to attend high school and they wanted to hire their own teachers and ensure that the curriculum reflected not only the British Columbia ministry guidelines, but the richness of the Heiltsuk culture. Bella Bella is a wonderful film to watch to learn about the history of BBCS and to hear the language being spoken by elders who left behind a legacy for others. 37 years later in 2012, the Bella Community School is a thriving school with an ongoing commitment to maintain and strengthen our caring and compassionate learning environment while staying closely connected to the traditions and values of the Heitsuk people – a place where students may develop to their fullest potential.
FNESC and FNSA, First Nations Steering Committee and the First Nations Schools Association are our supports as we go about our daily work with the children in our school and classrooms. One of the videos they produced (Vimeo) captures the essence of why many of us are involved with Aboriginal education. Take 27 seconds(and create a login) to watch this short clip, Why We Care About Aboriginal Education and ask yourself or engage in a conversation to unpack why it is you care deeply about the education of First Nations children and what your “hidden agenda” may be. What made a difference for you and how does that emerge in your classroom curricula. My motive for returning home to Bella Bella is clear – I care deeply about the education of Aboriginal children and want to make a difference.
I was born in Lillooet BC and was raised in Bella Bella during my childhood whereupon I was sent away by Indian Affairs to attend high school. I stayed on to attend university, to pursue a career, and to raise a family. I came home for two years with my husband and three children and left to pursue an adventure until we finally settled in Chilliwack in 1994. In August of 2012, we sold our house and my car and returned to Bella Bella sans children as they are all grown up and live far away from us. I longed for the opportunity to become part of a “community” and to live a simpler life without a daily one hour commute each way! I longed to be in a position where it is possible to see what “making a difference” looks like with smaller classes and a smaller staff who live “in” the same community as the children. This is all possible in Bella Bella and I look forward to working with a dedicated staff of colleagues and community members as part of a voyage along a path that includes some new and many seasoned and caring veteran teachers and community members.
After three days at a short course for principals and a great session with Dylan Wiliam, I am excited about the new school year and know that we will be deep into the culture of teaching and learning very soon.
“A dedicated teacher is a valuable messenger from the past and can be an escort to your life” Einsten