Many Faculty of Education graduates come from families with generations of teachers. For this issue’s Class Notes, we asked: “Would you say that education is in your DNA?”
Here are some of our alumni’s stories:
Elsie Morris, BEd ‘54, writes, “If I were to name an educator in my family, I would choose my mother. She never went to school or spoke English, but could write and read in Russian. Tolstoy and a small book of knowledge covering numerous subjects were her favourites. She was curious, explained and watched things with me as we walked in the pasture looking for mushrooms. There were black and red ants at war, bees gathering clover honey, curious gophers checking us out, and flitting butterflies flaunting colours. At night we'd look for the Big Dipper and, with luck, see a shooting star.
When she brought out a Russian primer and read the word ’cat’, I read every ’cat’ in the book, then she showed me how to print ’C’—my spirit soared. I could read and write! Thus began my education. My mother, Elizabeth Konkin, pointing the way, was my educator.”
John M. McEwen, BEd ’64, MEd ‘74, definitely has education in his DNA.
“I could hardly help but be a teacher, because of the influence of my family. My father volunteered in 1939 and taught at the RCAF Aeronautical Engineering School in Montreal during WWII. My mother, an Edmonton Normal School grad in 1932, taught school prior to their marriage. She conducted choirs, sang, raised us, and returned to teaching in her later years. Her sister (Normal School grad 1928) was a teacher and administrator with EPSB for 43 years. Three other sisters taught Sunday School for decades, while working in retail all of their lives.
My sister taught for years prior to her marriage, and her two daughters are teachers.
My wife was a teacher, researcher, and executive with Alberta Education, now retired. Our daughter is a teacher, singer, and conductor. I taught for 33 years—the last 20 at Old Strathcona Academic, teaching, conducting, and directing fine and performing arts shows. It was a special place for me because my mother and family had attended the old school too.
Only one of my nieces actually entered the profession and served for three years prior to her marriage, followed by the births of her daughters. Both sisters are busy mothers looking after the needs of their five busy children.
Our daughter chose a career in retail management, but still teaches as the conductor of a choir. She had every intention of teaching school but could not afford school board policies that regard new teachers as substitutes—waiting and hoping for the phone to ring, while wondering how to pay back the loans and keep up the mortgage payments!”
Donald Kauffman, BEd ‘64, Dip (Ed) ‘87, recalls the conversation that led him to teach: “I grew up on a farm, went to a two-room country school, then a three-teacher high school in town. No well-defined career path, I just knew I liked books more than farming.
Near the end of my Grade 12 year, the principal called me to his office and asked, ‘What are your plans for next year?’
My reply, ‘Duh, I don’t know.’
He then explained about something called the Junior E program in Edmonton. Scared me silly, but got me thinking. One winter at University of Alberta and I would be a teacher. The County was willing to give a bursary to pay for tuition and books, so I said ‘yes’ and started planning.
In September 1957 I enrolled in the Junior E program. In September 1958 I entered a classroom as a qualified teacher with 28 eager Grade 6 students. I was on my way!”
Arlene Bowles, BEd ’73, MEd ‘86, writes, “Growing up in my family, it was almost a given that I would choose education as a career path. My father, mother, and older sister were all teachers, and as my main role models, it seemed natural for me to follow in their footsteps.
For most of my school years, my dad, Michael Skuba, was either the principal or superintendent of the schools I attended, so you can say I was educated in his shadow (which meant I always had to be on my best behaviour!). Dad had high expectations both for himself and us and firmly instilled the belief that education was the key to our future.
In elementary school, my sister and I often had to wait for dad before going home and could be found in an empty classroom, playing ‘school’. Of course, being a year older than me, Sharon insisted on being the teacher. I vowed then that one day I would get to be the teacher, and I kept my promise to myself.
There are many traits that I inherited from my dad, but the most valuable was his belief in lifelong learning. He completed three degrees at the University of Alberta, receiving his BEd in 1945, his MEd in 1955, and his PhD in Educational Administration in 1965.
I obtained my BEd in 1973 and MEd in 1984, and during my 35 years with Edmonton Public Schools, was a classroom teacher, assistant principal, and principal. Although retired, I still find new interests to pique my curiosity and keep on learning.”
Sara Coumantarakis, Dipl (Ed) ’75, MEd ‘02, writes, “Education genes may have been in the family, but my mother didn’t have the opportunity to find out. She was the eldest in the family, followed by seven brothers. In those days (the 1930s), their education was deemed more important. She became the best Sunday School teacher ever and passed those possible-genes along to me. I enjoyed the gift of a university education, which neither my mother nor grandmothers had, becoming the first university graduate in the family. I have passed those now-tested genes along to my daughter Diana (BA, BEd), who is happily teaching in an Edmonton classroom today.”Janice Bogner, BEd ‘79, has a family history of teaching. “Although her teaching years were long over by the time I came along, I can still remember talk of my vibrant and feisty grandma’s years as a teacher. She wasn’t much older than some of her students, and I am sure she wasn’t any bigger than many of them.
As the only teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, she ruled with a firm but kind hand. I was one of her 22 grandchildren, and our family gatherings were always tons of fun with so many cousins running around. In our day the kids amused themselves, but Granny (Jean Cameron King) could be relied upon to be sure we were behaving ourselves. None of us dared to challenge her authority, and her influence must have rubbed off since six of her grandchildren and six of her great-grandchildren have followed in her educator’s footsteps!”
Lydia Kaji Yikon’a, BEd ‘79, remembers her sister as an exemplary teacher.
“One minute she ran to the left-hand side of the netball court, blowing the whistle, and barely knocking down one of the 14 girls she was coaching. I did not know the netball schedule in the City of Lusaka as I was only 10 years old. However, it seems to me that she took this practice session as seriously as the team members responded to her. Sitting on the sideline, I kept wondering where the energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the game came from being that it was in the late afternoon.
The very next day, she was in the classroom as a director of the play, The Bishop’s Candlesticks. I’m watching from the hallway, my nose etched on the window. The enthusiasm exhibited is no less than the previous day’s out on the netball court. Then, there is her calling in each and every classroom in which she taught English and other subjects. She loved teaching, especially at Chinika Primary School in Zambia.
This was my sister, Evah Yikon’a Kang’ombe, who raised me and was a role model for what good teaching looks like and what a teacher does outside of the school to enhance students’ learning and well-being.
This is my 42nd year in the field of education. I know I have her teaching DNA in me, but I’m still trying to be half what she was as a teacher to so many students. Following her retirement as an inspector of schools, she devoted her professional life to gender equity in education. I lost my sister in 2006.”
Douglas Walls, BEd ‘80, writes, “I knew for many years before I graduated from high school that I wanted to become a teacher. I think because I enjoyed school and learning I wanted to continue to be a part of that environment.
My mother’s sister and one of my father’s brothers were teachers, as well as some of my older cousins and cousins of my mother. So while there isn’t a direct descendant, as in parent or grandparent, teaching is a part of both sides of my family.
I have now been teaching for 35 years and feel it was the right choice for me. After teaching for 17 years in Alberta, I went international. I spent two years teaching at a private school in central Colombia, in South America. I then moved to southern Thailand and have been here since November 1999.”
Shereen Naidoo, BEd ‘81, comes from a family of teachers.
“My grandfather, Mr. A.J. Naidoo, educated his children in his mother tongue of Telugu in his garage after school in South Africa. From the seven children (four boys and three girls), two became teachers—my father Peter and Uncle Daya. Both attended teachers’ college in Durban, South Africa. My mother, Cynthia Govender, and three of her four sisters—Auntie Yvonne, Auntie Tiffie, and Auntie Toffie—all became teachers. They all taught in South Africa until 1969, at which time my parents immigrated to Canada.
In Canada, my parents settled the family in Donnelly, Alta., and my father taught at Georges P. Vanier School. He then moved the family to Vegreville, where he taught at A.L. Horton Junior High and Vegreville High School. While teaching, my father spent his summers educating us on the country he brought us to. We travelled throughout Canada and the United States. My father would stop and tell us about the trees, mountains, and lakes of this great country.
Both my parents were never shy to try new things and brought us up to be open and accepting. I admired my father's enthusiasm for education and the importance it played in making decisions and living with the consequences.”
Kim Bouchard, BEd ‘87, writes, “A royal tutor and a one-room school historically played a role in who and what I was to become: a teacher.
My great-grandmother was the tutor to the Austrian royal family in the House of Habsburg. She married my great-grandfather in Canada, warding off the (not so charming?) prince that pursued her.
My maternal grandmother taught in a one-room K-11 school in rural Saskatchewan. My mother received her bachelor of education the same year that I did, and my sister completed hers a couple of years later.
Representing the male populace of our family, my dad received his bachelor of education from the University of Saskatchewan and taught junior high science throughout his career.
One can only surmise the effect of DNA in one’s career choices. You see families of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. In mine there are teachers—the very foundation for all of these vocations.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association President, H. Mark Ramsankar, BEd ’87, MEd ‘04, writes, “My grandmother was pulled from teacher college in the West Indies because of an arranged marriage. She told me when I was 11, ‘I love your grandfather after 50 years of marriage, but I regret not being a teacher.’ She did raise nine children and four became teachers!
My father was a great teacher. He believed in educating the whole child. The results of his efforts to bring about meaningful change in education in his time can be witnessed today in our time. Hot lunch programs, police in schools, English as a second language, and schools functioning as community hubs are examples of his work. He always focused on students and their needs.
Some may argue that I am a product of my environment and therefore became a teacher. Going Darwinian, however, my grandmother’s genes were in my father, who in turn produced my brother and me…both teachers! I’d say it’s in my genes!”
Marv Machura, MEd ’90, is a teacher like his mother, Shirley Machura. He writes, “I was just starting my BA (1983) as she was finishing her MEd (1981). Previously, she had completed her BEd (1973) by studying nights and summers at the U of A while teaching with the Edmonton Catholic School Board and raising three children.
I remember her love of learning and how determined she was to earn her degree. She once broke her leg on the way to a night class by slipping on some ice, but it barely slowed her down and certainly didn’t stop her from continuing her studies or from teaching. I recall her bringing a pillow to class so she could rest her broken leg on a chair as she taught her class.
She completed her PhD the year after I completed my MEd. She became the associate superintendent of schools in Drayton Valley, driving thousands of miles between schools on icy winter highways by herself to ensure students would have the best education. During this time, ice intervened in her life once again, and she skidded off the highway on the way to some school, rolling her car twice or three times. She was back at her job a day or two after the accident.
She has had a big impact on many students and teachers in her lengthy and inspiring career. It started when she graduated from Junior E in 1958 at the U of A and began teaching a split Grade 2/3 class in Vilna, Alta., at the age of 18 and ended with serving two terms on the University of Alberta Senate. She also had a huge impact on my life. I am now teaching English for Okanagan College in Vernon, B.C., as well as directing the Kelowna Kiwanis Festival. I perform regularly and am working on my fifth CD. My mother is now retired but is still active with Delta Kappa Gamma whose mission is to advance female educators globally.”
Myra Rybotycki, BEd ‘97, says the inspiration for her teaching practice is her mother, Rose Rybotycki.
“She is a U of A alum (Class of '69) who taught for 40 years and always emphasized that diversity is not a challenge to be overcome, but an asset and resource which promoted quality learning.
As a department head and a lead implementer of Spruce Grove Composite High School’s Flexibility Enhancement Project, I created multilevel programming which emphasizes a continuum of learning, rather than maintaining grade differences.
After years as a student leadership advisor, I initiated the first gay-straight alliance for the students of Parkland School Division. I have led numerous co-curricular trips for students on four different continents and am committed to developing leaders, innovators, and global citizens. In 2015, I received provincial Excellence in Teaching Award.”
Kristina Kastelan-Sikora, BEd ’00, MEd ’05, PhD ‘13, is currently teaching music education preparation courses at Campus Saint-Jean. With over a decade of classroom teaching experience, she values assisting beginning music and French teachers and mentoring them as they begin their careers.
She writes, “When I was in Grade 4, I spent some time in my father's Grade 4 classroom in another school. Some days he would pick me up after school, and we would return to his school so that he could finish a few tasks or attend a staff meeting. While he was busy preparing, I worked on my homework and then would enjoy my own teaching experience using the blackboard. I would teach a classroom of imaginary students and would practice math problems and spelling with them on the board. Assuredly, there were never any discipline problems in my classroom.
One day in early December, the principal of my father's school noticed me in the classroom. He knew I played the piano and invited me to perform as a special guest at the end of the Christmas concert, as part of a sing-along. The evening of the concert, I had the chance to meet with the authentic Grade 4 students who sat in the desks in my imaginary classroom. They weren't the perfect students I had imagined, but it was during this time that I began to envision myself one day in my own classroom teaching music and preparing my own students for their concert.”
Kara (Yeo) Waddell, BEd ‘06, draws inspiration from her teacher mom.
“My childhood is full of memories of cutting out laminated sheets, stapling and pinning bulletin boards, playing in the gym on scooters, drawing with coloured chalk on the chalkboard, and taking out an endless supply of books from a library that wasn’t mine.
My mom taught Grade 1, and to a child like me, it seemed these after-school adventures were a part of everyone’s life. I was so lucky to have had these experiences with my mom, as it created a deep-rooted understanding of what teachers actually do. I have carried on my mom’s dedication and passion for education in my own career, though now I teach high school science. I learned from her that although it is a thankless job in a lot of ways, the rewards far outweigh the lack of recognition. I see that every time a grown former student approaches her, and she still remembers their name 30 years later.”
Lara Ripkens, BEd ‘08, writes, “I grew up in a family that was involved in either realty or nursing, and the last thing I ever thought I would be was a teacher—let alone a ‘dreaded math teacher’.
However, I ended up marrying into a family of educators where all the siblings, parents, and even some extended family were teachers. It was in my best interest to get on board and get an education degree so I would be able to understand all the education acronyms and philosophies discussed around the dining room table! It might not have been in my DNA, but teaching has given my life a purpose that I never knew existed, and I’m forever thankful that I took a chance on this career path.
Celia (Lavers) Proctor, BEd ‘11, grew up listening to her grandparents’ stories of their various adventures as teachers.
“Both my paternal grandmother and grandfather were teachers. They talked about experiences like teaching displaced Japanese students in southern Alberta or teaching in a very small farming community in central Alberta. The common theme in all of their stories was a passion for students and teaching.
It was my grandma who had the biggest impact on my becoming a teacher. She taught English and French and spent many hours passing down her love of both subjects. No one could bring Language Arts or French homework alive quite like Grandma. She would tell me about all the wonderful, creative, engaging lessons she would dream up for her English and French students. She showed me how a good teacher could truly impact a student’s life and fostered a passion in me to do the same.
I ended up majoring in English Language Arts to become an English teacher just like her. I now teach in an early education program, but I often think of the passion my grandparents had for teaching and realize that although we may teach different things, in very different times, we share the desire to positively impact a child’s life. That is in our DNA.”
Feature Image: Alberta Teachers’ Association President H. Mark Ramsankar (BEd ’87, MEd ‘04) reads to students.