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Opinion

Why I'm Training to Be a Teacher

Sensing huge potential in Aboriginal education, I want to be part of the change.

By Kathryn Ovenell-Carter 25 Jun 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Kathryn Ovenell-Carter is a student teacher from Simon Fraser University (SFU). With multiple university scholarship offers, Kathryn chose to study at SFU ways to improve aboriginal education, stemming from her work with SFU's Science AL!VE program in Haida Gwaii.

When I say that I am a student teacher sometimes I hear the question: "Why would you want to do that?" And then, sometimes, a tirade against the profession. "Don't you know there are no teaching jobs? The system is irreparably broken. You're going to be bored teaching the same old stuff over and over again."

Fortunately, I'm still young and naïve enough to believe it is actually an incredibly exciting time to become a teacher. Right now, we have the opportunity and the will to completely re-imagine what education is all about.

As a student, my life changed while studying the Indigenous Perspectives Teacher Education Module (IPTEM) at Simon Fraser University. We dug deep into issues that affected Canada's indigenous peoples and it made me re-examine my understanding of history. I had been taught in school that when B.C. entered into Confederation it was positive for the province and country. But I was not taught about the negative impact on First Nations. Prior to Confederation, First Nations youth were attending and succeeding at public elementary schools. Following Confederation, they suddenly became subject to the Indian Act and were soon sent to residential schools, which took a terrible toll.

Community and connectedness

Colonialism tried to extinguish the teaching methods and practices of indigenous peoples across Canada. It was only after a visit to Haida Gwaii with SFU's Science AL!VE program during my third year of university that I began to understand the urgency of improving aboriginal education and gained a new respect for indigenous rights. My work in Nunavut teaching science to Inuit students in the summer of 2011 only strengthened my passion. As we studied their ancient methods in IPTEM, I realized a simple truth: many of their values resonated deeply with my own. I credit my time in Haida Gwaii as being a moment of awakening to these issues and to developing an understanding as to why they mattered.

I was thrilled to see how students from other cultures and backgrounds responded to reflective teaching methods. Indigenous teachings emphasize a holistic, reflective, and reflexive approach to learning, and foster a valued sense of community in students.  Learning is focused on connectedness, reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place. There is also a great emphasis on having the entire community involved in learning, while recognizing and respecting the unique identity of each learner. These approaches are valuable when applied to all students.

IPTEM has taught me -- and by extension my students -- to be open to seeing the world from perspectives that are not my own, and to respectfully recognize their value. It has expanded my worldview and inspired me to seek out other perspectives to share.

Visionaries invited

This is just the beginning of an answer to the question "What should education accomplish?" and how my generation can work towards positive, long-lasting change. Alternative teachings and methods will be the foundation of this evolution. For the future of our interconnected and complex world, it is crucial that we, and our youth, learn how to be open to a diverse set of worldviews. The challenge of all teachers is to determine how to support this goal. It is a challenge I look forward to tackling.

The education system needs visionaries from amongst government leaders, teachers, administrators, school boards, parents, communities and students to make this re-imagination of education happen.

We can't focus only on day to day issues that dominate the news; concerns over funding or cutbacks, lack of resources and a wavering commitment to education and whether or not we should have standardized tests. We need to set our sights higher.

Being a teacher will never be boring and I'm looking forward to the day when I'm asked not "Why would you want to do that?" but "Teaching, why not?"  [Tyee]

Read more: Education

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