This year’s Teach for Canada visit to Big Grassy River First Nation in northwestern Ontario was a hit with two teachers from Toronto. They are both graduates of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – University of Toronto.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to get to know the community members a little bit,” says Laura Muntean, a teacher from North York who will be teaching this upcoming year in North Spirit Lake, a remote fly-in Nishnawbe Aski Nation community located about 530 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. “We went fishing and got to see a rock painting, which was pretty amazing. I was even taught by John, one of the community members, to fish while I was up there. And I’m very excited to try fishing in North Spirit Lake now.”
Lora Kikuchi, a teacher from Midtown near Yonge and Eglinton who will be teaching in Lac La Croix, a Treaty #3 community located about 200 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, says the visit to Big Grassy was “wonderful.”
“I always enjoy being in nature,” Kikuchi says. “I feel very lucky because the community I will be going to, we passed by on the way. I had a really good idea of what my community may look like and I’m also happy to know there will be neighbours. I can drive around and visit people I met while I was in Big Grassy.”
Kikuchi also appreciated the opportunity to spend some quality time with community members during the visit.
“More quality time was spent with Elders building the sweat lodge and while we were fishing,” Kikuchi says. “There was a community member who taught me to filet fish.”
Muntean says Teach for Canada is “an amazing organization.”
“There is so much work and preparation and passion that goes into it,” Muntean says, noting that the Teach for Canada Summer Enrichment Program includes feedback from teachers who are already working in First Nation communities in the north. “They really think of every little detail that would prepare teachers to go up north.”
Eric Bortlis, education director with Lac Seul First Nation, a Treaty #3 community located about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, delivered a presentation on Best Practices for First Nations Students during the Teach for Canada program.
“Honouring their past and their culture, recognizing their world view and bringing that into the classroom is incredibly important so that things can be put into context for students,” Bortlis says. “It really builds a lot of self-esteem when you can integrate the local knowledge into the classroom.”
Bortlis also introduced the teachers to an online teaching aid that incorporates music and fun for students along with teaching.
“Having fun and using humour is incredibly important,” Bortlis says. “Students are also very attracted to technology, so when you can mix tradition and technology together, then it’s a great opportunity for students to grow and be able to walk in both worlds.”
Kyle Hill, executive director of Teach for Canada, says the program has expanded to 45 teachers and 18 community partners this year from 31 teachers and seven communities in the first year.
“We have so many stories of impact in the classroom,” Hill says, “everything from student attendance going up as high as 35 per cent attendance growth in one community to teachers coaching hockey teams, starting choirs, starting drama clubs, running after-school outdoor education, all the way to a teacher who was put into the Ojibwa language class to teach (Anishinabemowin) because they were short a teacher.”
The Teach for Canada program was presented at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay from July 15-Aug. 5. Information about Teach for Canada is available at: teachforcanada.ca.