This issue of illuminate is devoted to the theme of literacy—after celebrating READ IN Week with partners across the city in early October, we wanted to keep the conversation going and ask our faculty members, instructors and illustrious alumni to reflect on the role literacy plays in their teaching, their research and their everyday lives.
For the Fall 2016 Class Notes, we asked our alumni to tell us, “If you were writing your memoirs about your career in education, what type of book would it be? Mystery, thriller, comedy, self-help guide? What would the book cover say?”
Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.
Kevin Dootson, BEd ’85, writes, “I graduated with a bachelor of education degree in 1985, taught for a few years, but parlayed that into a 20 year (so far) career in child welfare as a caseworker.
The title of my memoir would be Herding Butterflies in Wind. This title aptly describes the difficulty of the job of teaching in many ways, but I made it up as a description of how difficult it was to do the job of child welfare for the last 20 years.
To teach anyone anything is a privilege, and I have always accepted the challenge of teaching under difficult circumstances, whether it be as a teacher in a classroom or as a caseworker talking with a youth on the steps of a group home. To herd butterflies may not seem like much to people who don’t teach, but I loved the imagery of the attempt to help something in the face of adversity.”
Caren Nagao, BEd ’89, says, “An autobiography about my life as a teacher would focus on what I have learned from my students. It would contain humour and hysterics, horror and honesty, hope and humility. I learned so much from helping a dependently-handicapped child find a voice to not only meet her needs but make jokes. I learned about the strength that a young soul can find when they have lost a parent due to a drug overdose. I learned about perspective when a five year old explains that someone got them in trouble because they just had to push a peer down the slide because the bell had gone, and the peer was taking too long, and "I didn't want him to be late, did I?"
I am now teaching the children of my original students. Sometimes I feel quite wise and clever. The thing I love most, however, is that the very same day I am made to learn another lesson from the young yogis in my care.”
David Blades, PhD ’94, an alumnus of the PhD program in Secondary Education, sings the praises of his alma mater in his Class Note. “I just received a 3M National Fellowship this year. I learned how to teach at the post-secondary level at the U of A, so my former university deserves some praise! I'm now at the University of Victoria where I teach courses on elementary and secondary science education. I've engaged in a number of innovations, including setting up a centre for science education here—I was a former director of CMASTE at the U of A and borrowed ideas from that set up.
What I love about teaching is the opportunity to encourage a beginning teacher to realize that they have a role in shaping society through their work with children. I work with ministries of education and practicing teachers towards fostering more hands-on, inquiry based, socially relevant science education. It was this innovative work and my emphasis in my courses on a multicultural approach to science education that led to my 3M nomination here at the University of Victoria, but the key ideas that inform my approach to teaching were developed when I was a doctoral student at the University of Alberta and when I was a professor there in the Department of Secondary Education. The major influences on my thinking were my supervisors, Drs. Wallie Samiroden, Heidi Kass and Terry Carson.”
Mari-Agnes Cardinal, BEd ’03, writes, “My book would be comedy and adventure. I taught at Mountain Cree Camp at Kisiko Awasis School, where there are no stores and the only running water and power are at the school. The local spring water is about four kilometres away. It is a traditional Cree community. They live a traditional way of life and ceremonies are a big part of life. They welcomed me to join in any ceremony, including the Sun Dance. I was given a Cree name, Nigamo Nepee (singing leaf) and am honoured.
Kenton Biffert, BEd ’04, likes the outdoor survival guide genre for his memoirs. “If I were writing a book about my career in education, it would be an outdoor survival guide for teachers. It wouldn't be one more ‘wilderness skills’ book to put on the shelf, but rather a book showing how teachers can teach every subject outdoors and not just by taking the students to read outside, but to actually engage with nature in learning the curriculum. It would be about having less screen time and how to push against the tide of technology to be outdoors with the students. The title would be Taught in the Woods: A Survival Guide to Teaching Students in Nature.
Jennifer Jensen, BEd ’06, writes, “With a love of travel and an education degree from the University of Alberta, if I were writing my memoir, mine would be an adventure story. Upon graduation, armed with knowledge, skills, attitudes and a teaching credential recognized around the world, I headed out into the wild blue yonder, discovering the beauty of the earth and the wonders that classrooms around the world have to offer.
My story has taken me from a dirt hut in the shadows of Kilimanjaro to an international school near the Great Wall and from a one-room schoolhouse in the land Down Under to une école française near the Eiffel Tower. As for the next chapter, the rest is still unwritten, but what I do know is that it will all be worth it, for there truly is joy in the journey.”
Kristin Lapierre, BEd ’06, says, “If I were to write a book about my career in education, I would do it as a journal-type novel. Throughout my teaching career, I have always been a reflective person, and I’ve either written those thoughts down or put them into extended thought. I take on this type of active review because not only do I want my students to receive the best education possible, but I also want to be the best teacher that I can be.
If I had to choose the book’s title, I would call it Education: My Reflectional Journey because I would like people to see that what one does in the world with respect to their type of work can be very personal and that journey must be shared. By engaging in this type of process, I do believe that many individuals can appreciate the work they have done and determine what else needs to occur in order to find true happiness in one’s profession.”
Nicole Ifi, BEd ’10, says her memoirs would borrow from a well-known bestseller. “If I had to write a book about my teaching career so far, it would be a parody of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I, the leading lady, start by moving to Japan, where I placate the fears and doubts I have about being a first-year teacher by eating lots and lots of sushi—weight gain was inevitable.
Next, I spend time studying Buddhism in Myanmar, in an attempt to better understand the ‘little buddhas’ I’m faced with every day in the classroom. Finally, after landing my dream job at one of the top international schools in Asia, I find love. I fall in love with a fellow Canadian, and though it hasn’t happened yet, I imagine at the end of this we too will sail away in Bali where we are going next week for fall break.”
Recent grad Dana Eckl, BEd ’15, writes, “If I were writing a memoir of my education career, it would be a create-your-own-adventure book! Every time I thought I had my future figured out, it took another turn! The reader would be as likely, if not more likely, to know where my education career was taking me.
Immediately following high school I attended the University of Alberta in the Faculty of Nursing. About two weeks in I realized this wasn’t the field for me and withdrew. The following year I entered the Faculty of Arts, with the intention of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work. I completed the first year and decided this was not my calling either.
Finally, I graduated with my bachelor’s of education in June 2015. However, I decided the classroom was not for me either! Now I work for Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton, and I love every minute of it. I use things I learned from every step in my education career.”
Feature Image: Education staff and alumni check out some good reads on the third-floor patio of Education Centre North. Among the books, The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, the 2015-16 selection for the Faculty of Education’s book club.