The First Decade: 10 Years, 10 Accomplishments
The First Decade: 10 Years, 10 Teachers
Male Presence in Teaching Continues to Decline
by Brian Jamieson
Where Was That Line?
by Joe Jamieson
Luci Loisi was hired to do an LTO for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB in September 1997. And she's been there ever since, now the consummate professional, 10 years into a long-term career.
Hired to teach French at Loyola CSS, Loisi's start was abruptly interrupted by a political protest. Instead of standing in a classroom, she found herself standing on a sidewalk carrying a placard.
The following year the teachers were back on the picket lines, this time before the school year began. “That was a tough beginning,” she says. She remembers questioning whether she should stay in teaching.
Happily, she did. She taught at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary School from December 1997 until June 2003, when she became part of the team to open a new school in Dufferin-Peel: St. Marcellinus Secondary School. She's been teaching French there ever since, and sees herself still there in another 10 years.
Loisi says she was thrilled when that first group of Grade 9 students graduated from Grade 12 this past June. “It's been fantastic being part of a new school – hiring staff, developing policies and influencing programs. I have enjoyed the challenges.”
In the early days she found it difficult to manage her own high demands to be a perfectionist and ensure that every class was engaging, rigorous and creative. “There was little time for anything other than work, and it was stressful feeling I had to prepare something new and exciting every day.”
Time and experience have taught her to manage her time and expectations better. “I have a repertoire now. I have resources and activities I know work. It's still demanding and can still be stressful, but not like it was.”
Back then, Loisi was afraid to ask colleagues for help. She didn't want to show weakness, especially in front of administration and more experienced colleagues. It's different today.
She says, “I introduced Le Petit Prince to my Grade 12 students and had them colouring with crayons, and they loved it.” Ten years ago she would never have done that for fear of what admin would think. Today she realizes that such creativity is necessary to keep her students engaged. Moreover, her strong professionalism and confidence erase her worries about what others think.
Along the way, Loisi has completed AQs in Special Education, co-op and religious education, as well as her Master of Education.
“It gets easier,” she promises, and she encourages teachers who are struggling to stick with it. “When I had an especially difficult class,” she remembers, “I sometimes felt like giving up.” In hindsight, though, it was those classes that taught Loisi the most about classroom management, discipline, organization and creativity. “I had to work extra hard to engage some students, and it forced me to develop alternative teaching styles, which made me a better teacher.”
This year Carl Gagnon worked with Manon Séguin, a singer from L'Orignal in the Cornwall area, to prepare a school tour to show students that it's possible to succeed and to work in French in the region. He says, “The students saw that success is possible right here, and that you don't necessarily have to go to Hollywood.”
Gagnon is a language planning teacher for the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien, and works from an office in the école secondaire catholique La Citadelle in Cornwall. His main duties relate to the implementation of the aménagement linguistique policy, which is intended to improve students' communication skills, increase enrolment in French-language schools and support teachers in their activities.
One of Gagnon's greatest pleasures is watching young people's reaction to the projects they undertake. “I like to see them smile,” he says. “I like to see teachers happy and watch how the new activities benefit so many students.”
Even though he is passionate about his new role, this former elementary school French Immersion teacher admits that he misses the students. “I work behind the scenes and my direct contact with them is limited. When I visit the school or have the opportunity to work with and see my former students again, we say hello. Human contact, smiles, joys, failures – all these things explain my attachment to the profession and the fact that I am still working in teaching today.”
His hobbies are baseball, soccer, fishing and spending time with his family. He says: “You need to know when to say no. It's a great challenge because my work is important, but I also need to spend time with my wife and my little darlings to give them the love and attention they need. My wife is a teacher, and several members of my family have been in teaching, so the people around me are very understanding and have set an example for me to follow.”
Every morning Anju Bhardwaj works for the Toronto DSB. Her daughter was born in 2005 and she relishes her time both at school and at home, especially after being on maternity leave.
Bhardwaj started with the TDSB in 1999, working at Rose Avenue JPS, Nelson Mandela Park PS, Chine Drive PS, and now Glen Ravine JPS.
She has taught JK/SK and a Grade 4/5 split, and she prefers the JK/SK students. “I enjoy the kids' energy, their enthusiasm and their eagerness to learn.” She also likes the respect the smaller children give their teachers, and feels she connects best with this age group.
She found it challenging to get back into the swing of things after her maternity leave, more so because she came back to a new school and new colleagues. “It took a while to adjust,” she admits, “but everything is going well now.”
Reflecting on her career, Bhardwaj feels that one of her strengths comes from the tremendous variety of students. “I've had many children with high emotional and behavioural needs, and kids who don't speak English, and I know how to work with them to help them be successful.”
One of her major challenges, although she doesn't see it that way, is the fact that many of her JK students come to her class with little or no English. “Parents whose first language is not English send their children to school thinking, ‘This is where they will learn English.'”
Bhardwaj takes it in stride. “The kids pick up a lot from their classmates and they follow the other kids. Plus, I repeat myself and use visuals to reinforce what I am saying.” She also encourages them to speak in complete sentences. “They quickly learn ‘washroom' but they only say the word. I have them speak in full sentences to ask for what they want.” Many of her students are Tamil and the students will translate for each other too.
Bhardwaj herself learned English as her second language; Punjabi is her first. “I did my schooling in Burlington and I acquired my English skills without difficulty.”
“Having other careers before teaching has broadened and strengthened my practice,” says David Douglass, who worked first in hospitality and then in banking.
In 1999 he and his wife (now a nurse) decided to change career paths to focus more on helping others. And he hasn't looked back.
Working in Sudbury for the Rainbow DSB, Douglass has taught in three different schools, teaching Grades 6, 7 and 8, working as a Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) and teaching students in an autism spectrum disorder class. He has been at Long Lake PS for the past two years.
The school has 83 students, five teachers and a shared principal, vice-principal and SERT. The small school means a tight staff, a supportive community and the luxury of getting to know all of the students. Douglass comments: “One of the things that makes teaching most enjoyable for me is getting to know my students both inside and outside the classroom.”
He likes teaching the 5/6 split because he has many students for two years in a row. “It allows me to really understand and teach to their learning styles, and to help them be as successful as possible.” That's not always easy to do, especially with 28 kids in the class.
Douglass feels it's important to show his students that he cares about them. “I let them know they are integral to the success of our classroom, and that I and their classmates miss them when they're not here. I take the time to listen to their stories and show them that I'm interested in what interests them.”
He stresses the importance of learning to his students, and it's just as important to him. He's started his MEd, and has his specialists in reading and Special Education. Douglass has worked hard to integrate and apply what he learned in his AQs to his programming.
He plans to keep on teaching, maybe at the university level once he finishes his next degree, or perhaps with the lucky students at Long Lake PS.
Irene Maccarone is in her sixth year of teaching, all of it with Grades 4 and 5 students at Credit Valley PS in the Peel DSB. This year she's teaching Grade 5 at the Erin Mills school.
She worked in IT in the banking and brokerage industries for several years before becoming a teacher. “Business is demanding and challenging, and teaching is even more so. There's never enough time, and time management is my biggest challenge. I'm pulled in so many directions: students, my program, clubs, teams, concerts, staff meetings, paperwork. My dream job would be to have enough time to work with the kids all day long.”
Maccarone helps run the school's speech club. She coaches the cross-country team and is involved in the school's and board's anti-bullying programs. “Kids need to be made aware that bullying occurs everywhere,” she says. “They need to learn what it is, how to avoid it, and what to do if they encounter it.”
She believes that all children have something good in them and that it's her challenge to bring it out. “Everyone can succeed and get recognition from their peers for doing something well. It's my job to figure out what that is for each child and to make it happen.”
She's getting ready for yet another AQ course – ESL Part 1 – and is currently reading Getting Beyond “I Like the Book” on teaching students critical reading and thinking skills.
Maccarone found her first couple of years extremely difficult, but is happy that she stuck with it. “When I started, someone told me it would take about five years to feel comfortable in my career and strike the right life-work balance. I agree with that.”
Maccarone sees herself as continuing to work with students, although maybe not in Canada. “There are so many opportunities out there in the world and I want to take advantage of them. I may want to teach abroad.”
France Monette teaches at école élémentaire catholique Saint-Antoine in Tecumseh, near Windsor.
“As a Grade 1 teacher,” she says, “I'm the one who needs to take some of the play out of things and establish routines, give them structure, and show them how to work, manage their time and do their homework. It's an incredible experience to watch their progress in reading and writing, to see them become more independent and enjoy what they have been able to accomplish after only a few months.”
Her greatest challenge is teaching a class in which more than half the students do not speak a word of French. “Their mother tongue may be English, Romanian, Arabic or Italian, and it's up to me to help them make progress – to elicit their interest in the French language and keep them interested, so they can develop fully within the French-language school system.”
Monette applauds research and development in education technology and the many different kinds of software that exist, but laments the lack of time, and courses, to learn them all.
She would like to teach her students that they should take pride in themselves as francophone Catholics. “It's important to live your faith, your Catholic religion and your Frenchness in a visible way everywhere – in the school and the community and not only in the classroom. We need to be proud of being francophone, proud of who we are.”
In her free time, Monette likes to read about education and she occasionally writes poetry. But, she adds, “I have three daughters. I am therefore both a mother and a taxi driver.
“I'm lucky to have a good husband. He's a high school teacher. I often tease him by telling him that I have more work than he has, but he answers back that the very opposite is the case!”
Making a difference is what teaching is all about for Lenora Maracle, a Mohawk Language teacher from Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford. For some of her students, her class is their first introduction to their own language.
After graduating from Seneca College, Maracle worked for 10 years as an audio-visual technician with the York School Board. She returned to Six Nations once she had her children. She worked as a bus driver, in a ladder factory and in a bakery before taking the Native Teacher Education program on Six Nations. She then began teaching in elementary schools there, but to teach high school in the Grand Erie DSB she needed certification.
She attended the Aboriginal Teacher Certificate Program at Nipissing University in North Bay to earn her certificate. Since then she's been teaching Mohawk in high school from September to February, then supply teaching in the five elementary schools on the reserve for the rest of the year.
The native languages curriculum document is very vague, she explains, because it has to handle so many different languages. “As language teachers we have to develop our own resources and teaching tools. You can't find them on the Internet or in bookstores. Each teacher develops his or her own, and the styles of teaching differ.” Maracle has adapted some of her course materials from those used in the adult immersion program. Others she found in a kindergarten class when supply teaching.
Maracle finds herself incorporating more traditional skills in her classroom. As an aboriginal clothing and crafts artisan, trained at Pine Tree Native Centre in Brantford, she finds that crafts can make a difference in her students' sense of accomplishment and pride. A student having difficulty with the language class was transformed by an opportunity to make his own moccasins.
Maracle has noticed a decline in respect for teachers in her few years in the profession. For many students, the initial excitement about learning Mohawk has worn off, and they now take learning their language for granted. She credits parental and family involvement for those who are succeeding. “If the parents think the language is important, then the kids do too,” she maintains. Maracle's personal motto is: “Prepare for the worst, but expect the best,” and although she would prefer to teach her language in high school all year round, she brings her unique and multi-faceted cultural approach to her elementary teaching as well. And that makes a difference to all her students.
Amanda Flemming is enthusiastic about her new profession. “You go to university for five years to prepare for something you think you want to do, but you don't know for sure until you're done and out there. I can honestly say that I love it!” And it's the variety and the students she enjoys most.
Flemming has been teaching math and English at J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate in Ajax in the Durham DSB since she joined the College. Her timetable has alternated between one semester of applied math and one of academic English, mostly with students in Grades 9 and 10. She also teaches Grade 12 University English at night school.
Flemming especially enjoys working with students at the applied level. “Most academic kids are good, hard-working and know what they want and how to achieve it. At the applied level, many students have struggled in school and it doesn't come easy.” She enjoys the challenge of finding success with them. “I may not see progress every day with these kids, but I do over time, and that makes it worthwhile.”
She strives to find a balance between lesson planning and marking. Her dream would be to make every lesson fun, engaging and applicable to her students' lives, but she's come to realize that isn't possible, at least not every day. She wants to spend her time prepping, but there's also marking and administrative work to be done. Finding the right balance comes from discipline and time management, she feels. “I try to use my prep period for lesson planning, and then mark and do paperwork after school.”
J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate has a strong technology focus. Flemming and all her colleagues have laptops and access to smart boards, data projectors and the Internet. She uses IT regularly and her students work in the computer lab at least once a unit. In English, her biggest challenge is teaching students to research responsibly and filter what they find on the Net.
This relatively new teacher has some advice for newer teachers: “Don't take yourself too seriously; your students won't. Remember why you went into teaching – to work with kids. Don't sweat the small stuff. Have fun!”
New teachers are typically full of high ideals and brimming with the vision of teaching that brought them into the profession – then they have to face the real world.
Karen Heffernan has been able to integrate her ideals into the reality of her first job. In only her second year of teaching, she is assistant head of English at Clarington Central Secondary School in the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB. “I was in the right place at the right time with the right list of accomplishments,” she says. Clarington is a brand new school. From before the ground was broken, the principal and staff have been working together to make decisions that best meet the needs of students.
“Our school recognizes the gifts of all students,” she maintains. Her classroom is currently home to two different groups of learners: Grade 9 and Grade 12. “Both sets of kids have a lot to change in their world. They see things in unique ways. Coming to the same classroom they see each other's work displayed and ask questions, learn from each other.”
This integrative approach to learning offers many rewards, but Heffernan says her greatest challenge is what she sees as the disconnect between the goals and philosophy of teaching supported by her school, and the big push for numbers from the province. In her opinion, “The kids we're trying to help are punished by the numbers-driven system.” She still believes that accountability is important, “but I'm also personally accountable, and I'm accountable to the people in my room.”
Before becoming a teacher, Heffernan was an adult literacy worker with Frontier College in Peterborough, and she worked with the disability services office while in the concurrent education program at Trent.
She finds that the learning community model in her school allows for mentors to grow with her. She has embraced the recent technological advances that her school has incorporated. Announcements are televised, there are high levels of access to computer labs, and she is eager to explain that “learning through video conferencing helps students realize how big the world is and how many new skills they'll need, regardless of their career path.”
Recently certified to teach in Ontario, Chukwuyem Imahiagbe is searching for a new job that follows his passion – teaching.
Imahiagbe grew up in Nigeria, where he graduated from the University of Ibadan and teacher's college and taught math for two years. Then he moved to England. While working on his masters in computing and information systems at the University of Luton, he taught math and information technology to 16- to 19-year-olds at Luton Sixth Form College for 18 months. He also coached the school chess team.
Imahiagbe came to Canada in 2005, thinking he would have to take an examination to qualify to teach here.
“I got myself connected with Teach in Ontario,” he says. “There, I got information that was very useful and important. They provide information on schools, boards, curriculum, how to get on the supply list, how to have a chance to get employed. I didn't need to take any more exams, I just had to submit my application and get documents from Nigeria and England.”
One important factor was visiting Ontario classrooms. Imahiagbe found that helpful, although he says, “From what I'm used to in England, what I saw here is about the same.”
One difference he found was that desks in Ontario classrooms were arranged so that students sat alone. In England, they were arranged in pairs. But, he noted, there was enough room here for students to interact. “The teachers I observed created a stimulating environment with time for students to work together. They encouraged team work and collaboration.”
Just before the 14-week Teach in Ontario program ended, Imahiagbe took a position with Dell Canada. As a quality specialist, he listens to calls, provides feedback on the quality of the call, and coaches agents on how to improve.
Imahiagbe's next step, now that he is licensed to teach in Ontario, is to get acquainted with the school boards in Ottawa, where he and his family live. “I'll be happy to move back to the public school system where my training and experience will be put to use. I'm looking to teach science, math or computers.”
Imahiagbe fully intends to find himself a place in a classroom – and also to coach the school chess team, or form a chess team if need be.