A series of celebratory events took place in succession as the 2016-17 school year drew to a close. We had final meetings yesterday and today I bid farewell to a career that I have adored in so many ways, a career that has brought me such immense joy and satisfaction. A career that brought purpose to what I did each day as a classroom teacher and as an administrator.
I cannot look back on my career without considering how and why I decided to dedicate my life’s work to education. One of my earliest memories is a bird’s eye view of my self sitting on top of a 45 gallon oil drum printing letters while my mom hung clothes on the clothes line. I decided at age 4 or 5 that I would become a teacher so that others could experience the joy of learning as much as I did.
What’s most compelling for me about this memory is the fact is that despite mom’s painful legacy as a residential school survivor, intuitively she knew that I needed books and other paper and pencils. Despite having only a primary education, mom was able to order these from a catalogue and she made sure I would have many opportunities to practice. The order form was carefully filled out and then mailed out through Canada post. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the freighter carrying these precious supplies, along with cases of peas and carrots, meatballs and gravy, and other canned goods that she stocked up on regularly. I had paper and pencils when we sometimes didn’t have much else. Even through the most challenging times all primary educators take great pleasure when students can print their names or reach a similar milestone. Dad instilled in me at a young age, the expectation that I would attend university. Although I took some time away from university, I never wavered from those early expectations. In fact, I went beyond that and completed a Masters degree to satisfy a deeper need to grow as an educator and I attended some amazing pro d events throughout the years.
One of my biggest challenges as a classroom teacher was teaching a remedial math class in the late 80s. I had no idea what I was getting into when I took on this assignment. I had to learn the math the night before in order to teach the lesson and I know I did little more than a mediocre job in an unadorned portable away from the beautiful main building so if I felt alienated; I’m sure the students felt that as well. Inclusion is for everyone and this experience taught me that.
The same year I taught a grade 7 English class and we read Banner in the Sky, a fictional story based on the first people to climb the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. At the end of that school year, Vic and I took the year off and took our kids on a trip through Europe. I sent those grade 7 children a postcard from Zermatt with the hope that they too, could consider going on an adventure to experience life in other places and to work hard to conquer a life goal as Rudy did in the novel.
Another challenge and source of joy was teaching the AVID, Advancement via Individual Determination program at CSS. The students had to apply to get into the program and they had to meet specific criteria. Typically they were kids who had proven academic ability, but were getting mediocre grades in mainstream classes. They were first generation kids whose parents had never attended college or university. They had to have a sincere desire to go on to post secondary school. All those children have personal gifts and talents and they were a joy to work with. How I survived taking 40 of them on a fieldtrip to universities in Lethbridge, Edmonton, and Calgary. I will never know, but I know it had a lot to do with my upbeat and fun-loving colleague Gail Vodden who was a chaperone and navigator on that trip. I also had solid support from talented colleagues like Ji Ai Cho, Diane Chapman, Dale Halcrow, and so many others in the Chilliwack school district. If we could give the same kind of attention and experiences to all children, we would see them grow and thrive in the way that these AVID kids did. That lesson became so evident for me.
I learned so much about the craft of teaching as a Faculty Associate at SFU. This experience was pivotal and it shifted my teaching practice upon my return to the classroom at the end of this secondment. I still keep in touch with a few of those student teachers who have developed into fine teachers and parents. Intuitively successful teachers know that clear, structured lessons with an infusion of inquiry and necessary differentiation can help move student closer to meeting expectations. They also know that developing a trusting relationships with students is integral to creating a joyful and productive teaching and learning environment. Many BBCS teachers display this mastery and this has allowed most of our elementary students to meet and exceed grade level reading expectations. Our PM benchmarks show lines of light and dark green for meeting and exceeding expectation. Sue Gower, Instructional leader of FNSA would be thrilled to know that all of our grade three children, age 8, are reading at their grade level. Maintaining high expectations, providing solid instruction, and providing carefully crafted interventions have paid off! Keeping in touch with parents as partners in learning is critical to their success because children need to be at school and they need support and encouragement in order to be here regularly.
I had no plans to move into administration, but when the opportunity came up in my ancestral home, I pulled up the deep roots that I had established in Chilliwack, resigned from my district position with Surrey SD, and moved to Bella Bella. It has been both a challenge and a joy and fond memories will remain with me always. I can summarize my administrative experience with this because no one knows the work of an administrator unless one has done the job: I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I wondered. I lay awake at night sometimes. On the days that I made my way home as late as 9 pm, I felt like a survivor. Having said that, it has been my dream job and I am leaving with a deep sense of fulfillment. I have such high hopes for the children. Clearing out my office will be my last big task and it will signify my departure not only from BBCS, but also from Bella Bella.
I will leave with memories and recollections of a time that will always remain with me. I will leave knowing the culture and traditions are strong and there is a strong sense of resilience in the face of any threats to the territory or resources. I know that the children are proud of who they are and they know the dances and the gvilas. I know they have ample opportunities to practice traditional food harvesting and preparation as part of school curriculum and that on Fridays, they will practice the songs and dances. I know there is a strong staff with compassion and commitment to do what it takes to ensure their success.
Having the opportunity to live and work in the village where I spent my formative years has been so rewarding. I have enjoyed a lifestyle that is slower paced and simple in that there is not the urgency to get in a car and go somewhere and be back at a certain time if traffic permits. If anything, we can decide to go out on our boat and be out on the water in 15 minutes often returning with a catch of halibut or salmon. Fresh prawns and crab has become a staple for us along with our freshly dried seaweed over rice. If it was an easy process to have a home here, I would be staying, but I am not wiling to wade through the time intensive bureaucracy that it takes to secure a lot and build. After five years we are uprooting once again and moving to what we want to refer to as our forever home on another island.
Our official address until we can get a post office box will be General Delivery, Quathiaski Cove, BC. V0P 1N0. We are looking forward to exploring life on Quadra Island where we will be closer to family, but we will still have the luxury of going out on our boat or getting into our car for a drive up or down island. We look forward to staying in contact with family and friends and creating the next chapter in our lives as retirees. Look us up if you are nearby. We will have lots of time for visitors.