This issue of illuminate looks at issues around mental health and wellness, for students, teachers and school communities. We asked some of our alumni why it’s important for educators to practice self-care and to share some of their favourite ways to de-stress.
Mary Oswald, ’56 Ed Dip, ’57 BEd, ’76 MEd– Choosing a career in education was the best decision I ever made. I had wanted to be a teacher from the time I was about seven years old and my two younger sisters were my students, armed with pencils, crayons and newsprint paper. My teaching career was very satisfying; from the time I was placed in a one-room country school for two years with 29 students, Grades 1 to 9. I moved on to teach for many years, mostly at the primary level. These years included a secondment to teach Language Development at the U of A and several summer school classes in Early Childhood Development. I achieved my MEd with a focus on Child Development and Language Learning. From there I was hired as a teacher consultant with Edmonton Public Schools, which covered 11 years. Another achievement of which I am very proud is qualifying for my private pilot licence while I worked full time. I used this for pleasure, and also to take me to districts outside of the city to do teacher in-service work. It saved me a lot of time! After retirement I was invited to join the Board of Directors of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame located in Wetaskiwin. My first task was to write, edit and produce a lovely coffee-table book about members of The Hall. Now as a volunteer on the operations committee, I am continuing work there, organizing induction dinner galas, keeping in touch with members across Canada, editing and producing the newsletter, The Flyer, and recently completed a script for a short video about The Hall. This keeps me very busy but I couldn’t choose any better!
Jamie Wallin ’57 BEd, ’62 MEd
Wow! Even in my senior years, it seems impossible for me to say, “No, I'm retired.”
I retired from a professorship at the University of British Columbia MANY years ago. Then, I “retired” to Thailand. However, within a month or so of my arrival in Thailand, I accepted an invitation to help develop a new Graduate School of Education for a major Thai university. The graduate school's mandate was: bilingual education—for teachers of languages and managers of bilingual schools. I said okay. Fifteen years later, though in retirement #2, I said 'yes' to a recent request to produce a cyber-university course on the history of educational philosophies, beginning with the three great Asian “religions”—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Yes, stressful, a bit, but I can prepare and produce the series in my own time: five sessions before the end of this year!
Albert Karvonen, ’60 BEd, ’64 Ed Dip, ’66 MEd - To de-stress, I go for a walk each day in our forest (a conservation site) or cross-country skiing in the winter. In the 2017-18 season, I skied 750 km, and in past years 500-1,000 km each season. Forest and lakeside is my retreat—Nature’s Paradise. “Study nature and you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein.
Evelyn Abell, ’65 BEd & Bob Abell, ’83 PhD - Evelyn says, “I believe that de-stressing requires awareness, tools, and positive action. While on stress leave during my sixth year of teaching high school, I gained awareness of causes of stress including powerful mind-body interactions. The next year, I was introduced to meditation—a tool that delivered better quality sleep in way fewer hours. Over the years, tapes, conferences, and life experiences added to my toolbox, teaching me to ‘be here now,’ to be aware of mine and others' energies, and to channel thoughts and frustrations into positive action, championing increased fairness for all. With my husband since 1970, Dr. Bob Abell (Ph.D, Ed 1983) we dance, work together, support causes, and are producing a film, Corporate Prey, where my support includes catering organic, non-GMO food to cast and crew. The love shared within diverse communities including relatives, friends, film, and environmental ‘families’ helps overpower daily stresses and rewards everyone with ongoing energy.”
Bob says, “In the ‘70s, my wife, Evelyn taught high school in Edmonton, while I worked at Athabasca University. One of her students, noticing her stress, introduced us to Transcendental Meditation. We practiced TM for many years, more recently adding another technique called Holosync. Stress is in large part caused by a feeling of being powerless in the face of difficulties. Taking action, rather than accepting the status quo, actually helps reduce stress. So in 2011, while listening to Holosync, I started writing books on economic, social, and environmental issues that were bugging me. One novel morphed into a screenplay, and we just finished principal photography on a full length feature film Corporate Prey. Yes, there are new stresses to financing, directing and producing a film, but nothing compared to feeling powerless against those who are working to enrich themselves while creating hell on earth for everyone else.”
Shiela Sirdar ’66 BEd – My name is Sheila Maureen (Brennan) Sirdar and I graduated with a BEd from the U of A in 1966 and spent just 18 years teaching in Edmonton for the Edmonton Catholic School District. I enjoyed teaching but some volunteer work for Universiad in 1983 led me back to the U of A and I took a BA in Chinese and thus began a second career teaching and studying in China back in the days when they were just coming out of the Maoist era. My career hopes were dashed by the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 when all exchanges and engagements with the Chinese came to a halt. After several years living in Trinidad I began career number three in the travel industry so have spent the last 25 years travelling the globe. This has turned out to be the best education for me and absolutely the best way of destressing. I know not everyone is able to do what comes naturally to me but I think many of my generation are able to travel and wherever I go in the world I am always meeting teachers as they are the most inquisitive and best travelled. Hopefully they take their experiences back to the classroom and impart their knowledge and understanding of other peoples and cultures to their students. The photo was taken in Ouarzazate-Tinghir, Morocco last October.
Ed Fergusson, ’68 BEd – Having both my certified tradesman certificate in carpentry (1958) and my “six subjects with an average of 65 or higher,” I was accepted into the first vocational teachers program at U of A along with 84 others for the 1962-63 term. I began teaching in September 1963 at Victoria Vocational High School. That year, along with welding teacher Austin Robson, I established the Vic Weightlifting Club. Weightlifting was then, and still is after 55 years, my stress relief. I taught a variety of subjects at Vic, Eastglen, M.E.LaZerte, and the Young Offenders Centre, retiring in the year 2000 at age 65. Along the way I became Certified as a Level 3 Canadian weightlifting coach and earned my Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (1989) from the U.S.A. National Strength and Conditioning Association. At age 83, I coach/train at two different gyms in Parksville, B.C. and do small reno jobs. The accompanying picture shows my wife Brenda, (75) and I at the Canadian/PanAm Masters Weightlifting Championships in Gaspé, Quebec on June 2018. We both won gold medals in both competitions and Brenda set new records for women 75-79 in the Canadian competition and for women 70+ in the PanAms.
Patricia Higgs, ’70 BEd, ’78 MEd – I had a wonderful career as a teacher, consultant, principal and assistant superintendent in two fine school districts from 1968 to 2002 and am now retired from Edmonton Public Schools and the Greater Victoria School District. Currently, I am living in Victoria, BC and Ajijic, Mexico, enjoying photography and painting at home and on our travels around the world. I was inspired to be an educator (and a traveler) by the talented and interesting teachers I had at Strathcona High School. This admiration of teachers only deepened in my years in the Faculty of Education at U of A. However, I think it was the hot chocolate and cinnamon buns at Hot Caf that really fueled my love of education. Thanks for the memories.
Dave Tjart, ’71 BEd, ’71 Ed Dip, ’76 MEd - I was a teacher/counsellor in the County of Parkland for 26 years (1971-1997), and enjoyed my time there very much. I also taught summer school for the Edmonton Public School system for about a dozen years. As an old-timer (retired for years), I find destressing very easy on some days, harder on others. They say children and old people thrive on routine, and so I try to space out the "new" stuff, making sure that I don't get overwhelmed in any week. I'm very glad for opportunities to connect with my community, and am happy that reaching out to others brings its reward of well-being. Just in this regard, I've found that as I'm on my daily walk, it's a great picker-upper to interact with the parents of young children I meet, and compliment them on their little ones. And mostly importantly, I have the assurance that, in the words of the old song, there's "someone to watch over me," especially when the unexpected comes along. Like Tevye of old, I "keep my balance" by gratefully participating in the traditions of my faith community.
Don Harris, BEd ’72 – After teaching school in Edmonton, then graduate work at Northwestern University, I served as a professor of music education at the University of Saskatchewan. I took up yoga, mindfulness meditation and walking on retirement, for general health more than stress reduction. These have been transformational in so many ways.
Wayne Madden ’74 BEd
I continue to enjoy retirement, volunteering twice a week at Jackson Heights School across the street from where I live in Mill Woods. I also teach Sunday school at St. Patrick's Anglican Church. Daily walks and parking my snout in a book are also favourite activities.
Cres Estioko ’76 BEd
After finishing my teacher training studies in the Philippines in 1963, I started teaching at the young age of 19. My first assignment was a Grade 6 class with boys who were taller than me. They probably thought I was just a young kid like them because one of the boys started writing me love letters and wrote love graffiti to me on the concrete fence.
I taught three years in my birth country and then came to Canada after undergoing a rigorous process with the Department of Education in Alberta and the Canadian Embassy in the Philippines. I had to be in top shape, health-wise; my student transcript of records and teaching credentials had to be acceptable and approved. Additionally, I had to send a recorded interview between an English-speaking officer and myself.
My first employment when I arrived in Alberta on October 2, 1966 was with the County of Ponoka # 3, split Grade 5 and 6 at Bluffton School. Since I did not have experience teaching split grades, as this is not practiced in the educational system of the Philippines, I applied to teach a Grade 5 class after two years. I was hired by Fairview School Division and taught and lived in Hines Creek from 1968 to 1971. It was also in Hines Creek where I got married in 1969, when my fiancé followed me.
In 1971, September of that year, I moved to live in the town of Fairview to go teach a Grade 3 class in Whitelaw. Another young teacher and I took the school bus to go to work and back home, since we both did not own a vehicle. We did this for three years.
An opportunity came by in 1974 to move closer to the big city and my family of three by then. We bought a house in St. Albert and this is where we live now. I was hired by the Sturgeon School Division # 24 to teach at the Hutterite colony west of Morinville. My job was to teach all the Grades from 1 to 9 in a one-room school at the colony. The English School, as they call it, started at 9 a.m., after their German school, and ended at 3:15 p.m. As soon as the students reached 15 years of age, they could quit school at any time during the school year.
Teaching the Hutterite children at the colony was quite an interesting and educational experience for me. I had not seen nor met any Hutterite previously. The first time I stepped into their territory and saw them, I felt I was in a different world. All the boys and men wear the same dark-coloured clothing. Married men are identified by wearing hats. The girls and women wear long skirts, long sleeve tops and hair covered with headkerchief. Teaching at the colony gave me a deeper insight and understanding of the Hutterite culture.
After two years at the colony, I moved to teach Grade 5 at Namao School for a few years. Since I have training in Special Education, I was assigned to Sturgeon Heights School to start the Special Help program there in Mathematics and Language Arts. I tested the special students, planned and carried out their individual programs in a small pull-out group settings. I also went in the classrooms to help the students.
My last assignment was at Camilla School where I taught different grades in different years— Grade 3, 4, 5 for the rest of my teaching career until my early retirement in 1999. All those years of teaching, I basically taught all subjects from religious instruction to music and so on, except French. I offered to teach Filipino language but I was not allowed.
When I retired, I continued working as a substitute teacher at different schools for the Sturgeon School Division. I was called to substitute in different grades from the Headstart program for pre-schoolers to Grade 12 home economics, cosmetology, music and other subjects. In total, I taught for 36 years.
I do have a degree in home economics back in the Philippines and pursued my BEd, Early Childhood, at the University of Alberta, and had taken music courses. I used to own a beauty salon in St. Albert. As an educator raising a young family of four, it was a time of managing my agenda on a daily basis. On top of that, I had a husband who was sick and I had to visit him at the U of A hospital every day. He finally passed away at the young age of 50.
I de-stressed by learning and doing crafts like macramé, stained glass, crocheting. I got involved in my children's activities—their dancing, piano, sports. I sometimes hired help to go to gatherings of friends at parties or ballroom dancing. I attended Catholic meditation and went to yoga. Earlier on, when my husband was still well, the family went weekend camping and on summer trips in our motorhome. I also love cruising and traveling. I attended some dance parties when my schedule permitted. In fact, because of my love and passion of dance, when I retired, I started taking ballroom dancing more seriously with private lessons. I have competed and I am in the gold level by the Arthur Murray Dance syllabus.
David Mensink, ’82 MEd, ’87 PhD - After working for almost 30 years as a psychologist in counselling services at Dalhousie University, David Mensink will embark on new adventures. He plans to open a private practice in Victoria, BC. In addition to counselling Dalhousie students over the years, David served three times as president of the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA), as well as two years as treasurer for DFA. He is very grateful for his years at the University of Alberta which prepared him for a very successful career which will continue into the future.
Joanne McNeal, ’82 MEd, ’97 PhD – I earned a MEd in educational administration in 1982 from the U of A, and worked ten years for Athabasca University in student services. I was a doctoral student at UBC from 1991-1997 in arts education. I created the first fine arts program for Aboriginal students in Inuvik in 1995-6, and taught 18 months for Yukon College in Mayo, Yukon. I taught four years as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech in Indian Studies, as well as directing an historical house museum. I retired from being Yellowknife Campus Director of Aurora College in 2006. Then I taught six years as a sessional in arts education in elementary education at the U of A. What wonderful challenges, but a chance to make a difference in the lives of students and their communities! I live in Edmonton near my grandchildren, one of whom is now at the U of A. To de-stress I walk my dogs, renovate my old house, work in my yard, sing in a chorus and play violin in a community orchestra. All give me exercise and keep me healthy—a win-win.
Norma Jani, ’83 BEd – Norma says, “I have been teaching with Edmonton Catholic Schools for 30+ years. I began my career teaching phys ed, social studies and language arts in junior high. For 10 years I have served as an assistant principal, five years in junior high and the last five years in senior high school. I pray, colour and meditate to de-stress. I also find it helpful to read encouraging books. For example, Attitude of Gratitude, by M.J. Ryan is one such book that reminds me what is important in life.”
Brenda Mueller (Adam), ’89 BEd, ’98 Ed Dip – I taught Grade 2 for 17 years at Strathcona Christian Academy in Sherwood Park. When I was offered the position, my first response was fear, as my training was in secondary phys ed and social studies. Well, I thought about it and prayed about it. I figured I could always move grades but since this job was a sure thing, I would take it. It turns out I absolutely loved teaching Grade 2 and stayed there for 17 years. During that time, I took a year sabbatical and earned my diploma in education. Then I was off for five years and came back to teaching in 2013. Presently, I teach Grade 3 at Fort Saskatchewan Christian School. To manage stress as an educator, each day, as soon as I wake up, I read my Bible and talk to my Heavenly Father. Getting 10,000+ steps a day and eating for energy is also essential. Years ago, I learned from a mentor teacher, Wilma, that being positive is so much better than being negative. So, I reward the good behaviours and quietly speak to the undesirable choices. After 22 years of teaching, I remain happy and fulfilled in my work. Thank you, God and Wilma!!
Curtis Blair, ’91 BEd
After teaching for 27 years, I don't often get stressed anymore.
I have always found that when stress enters my life, exercise never fails to help relieve that stress.
John Anchan ’93 MEd, ’98 PhD - I am currently associate dean and professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg. As faculty and administrator, I do not recall being stressed out on anything in particular. Concerned, but not stressed out. Secret? Don't take yourself too seriously—use humour, it is a gift from God. You can deal with personnel issues, student issues, budget cuts, emergencies—even collective bargaining. L. Lionel Kendrick nailed it: "We cannot always control everything that happens to us in this life, but we can control how we respond." Do not worry about things you cannot change. Respect wisdom of the past. Be patient fair, honest, just and courteous, but also firm. Everything popular is not always right and everything right is not always popular. Do not be hamstrung by “paralysis by analysis.” The wall plaque in my office says, "It's nice to see people who enjoy their work." If you love what you do, your passion and satisfaction will guarantee a (relatively) stress-free ride.
Muriel Teusink, ’07 Ed Dip - Taking at least two weeks of vacation from the work is important—no lesson plans, no reading, just being off. Going to professional development conferences/ seminars (not the for-credit courses) helps by being with like-minded people, having time outside the work environment, and having some fun with folks who understand.
Nicole Ifi, ’10 BEd - I'm currently a Grade 6 teacher at the United Nations International School in New York. I just started in New York this year after teaching in Asia the last nine years. I was in Japan, Macao and most recently at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. I recommend teaching internationally to anyone who can! It's great for new teachers, families, etc. Travel, great school, amazing and interesting students—don't think: just do it! The school I'm at now is pretty international with 70 per cent of its students being from UN families. There are 11 different first languages in my homeroom; it makes for very interesting student potlucks. My favourite way to de-stress is by spending time outside, colouring/painting, or going for a long walk in the park. Mindfulness is always such a good way to stay centred when in the classroom and I start most classes with some breathing. It's something I do with my kids and hope they take into the real world as well. We also like to do a lot of colouring mindfulness in my classroom—my students beg for it! Here in New York, my favourite way to de-stress is by walking home with fellow colleagues. Time outside, fresh air and maybe even a little wine always help!
Elizabeth McCarthy, ’12 BEd - I am currently teaching secondary English, drama and PE and an Oxford PGCE Mentor in Oxford, England. Pick one day a week where you leave work shortly after the final bell and go do something you really enjoy—yoga, going to the gym, seeing friends, anything! I work with trainee teachers from the University of Oxford and have seen so many of them burn themselves out before they even make it through their degree because there seems to be this perception that if you’re not working long hours then you’re not working hard enough. As teachers we have a tendency to work some very late nights because it’s ‘for the kids’—and when else will those papers get marked? But we’re useless to everyone if we don’t love ourselves a bit too. So really, doing something you love, even if it’s just one day a week, even if it is technically ‘for the kids,’ just in an indirect (but completely guilt-free) way. Work smarter, not harder.
Alysha Kazimirchuk, ’17 BEd - Through my experiences in Thailand, Drumheller and Vancouver I have found that every place was so different in terms of the options available to de-stress. Every location and team of teachers offers a different opportunity to find our equilibrium. I’ve found that regardless of any of that, one thing I needed for something on the ‘sanity to happiness scale’ was at least a few confidants who are educators as well, and rituals that allow for focused me-time, like bike rides with a podcast, beach days with a book, and guided meditation for gratitude. If you’re like me, your brain will have a hard time letting work go at the end of the day. If you’re a perfectionist and can’t shut off you may need something to take both your brain and body away. This isn’t selfish—balance is crucial to your ability to give back to your students. Taking time to learn new things will keep you excited about sharing knowledge as an educator. And, above anything else, practicing gratitude intentionally is the most important thing you can ever do.
Madison Taylor, ’18 BEd
Teaching children is loud, rewarding, and can be stressful at times! I make sure to do at least one thing for my mental or physical health each day. I like to unwind quickly in a short period of time by meditating and focusing only on my breath to ensure I am grounded. My other ways of de-stressing include spending quality time connecting with friends and family, as well as lifting weights and running. My journey through the education program at the University of Alberta led me to a master's of Science in occupational therapy; my "teacher skills" are being optimized every single day in this program. Utilizing my de-stressing techniques is essential now that I am in graduate school!
Feature image: Madison Taylor