My Hopes for This School Year
Now in my thirty-fifth year as an educator, I still look forward to the beginning of the school year with anticipation. It still feels like yesterday, but three and a half decades ago, I started my career in Peace River South School District as a grade 6/7 teacher in Devereaux Elementary School. I remember when I first saw the ad for the position, going to a map to see where the heck this place was. The principal, Mr. Evans, interviewed me over the phone and offered me the job shortly thereafter. He later told me that I was one of thirty-eight applicants, yet my resume caught his attention because of our mutual passion for track and field.
Moving to the north was a culture shock, but as a newly married and eager to teach graduate, I was excited to dive into what I felt was my calling. Devereaux Elementary was not what I had pictured in the theatre of my mind, however. It was a rural school about twenty-five kilometres outside of town and was a holdover from the open schools era of the 1970s. The inner walls of all the classrooms were entirely opened into the hallway, which initially made me nervous, especially since my classroom was right outside Mr. Evans’ office. One other thing caught me off guard: The grade 4/5 teacher next door lived in the teacherage on the school property with his dog (O brave new world!)
I knew I had landed in a special place, however, when I met my students and their families. The community loved their school and appreciated its staff, and they also had high expectations for the types of experiences we would create for their children. It challenged me to find interesting and enjoyable experiences, and I loved doing it. Whether it was through sport, literature, science or the arts, my first classroom was a perfect crucible for me to learn about the important work I would do to shape the lives of the children before me. It was the best place to start my career, and helped to truly connect my purpose to the work I did in my subsequent schools.
Fast forward to 2022, and I find myself reflecting on the fundamental importance of our work on the heels of the most difficult time in our educational history. The tumultuous years that preceded this one have caused me to reflect on those early years in Dawson Creek, and the many students with whom I worked over the years. Experience and time have taught me about the importance of our public education, and the various ways we can accomplish this ever-important and growing life-mission.
I find myself challenged to think about our way forward in this (dare I say?) post-pandemic era. I wonder about the lessons we have learned and how we can affect them as the expectant families send us their children for what they hope will be a brighter and more joyful school year. The challenges are multi-faceted. There are new classes of kindergarten students who will not have experienced pandemic schooling. In the same schools, clusters of their peers will know nothing but pandemic education. This is true of entire groups of middle and secondary students. Combine this, for instance, with the students arriving in grade twelve this year, hoping they will get the magical grad year their previous cohorts missed, and you see the challenge with more clarity. There are also teachers and support staff hoping this will be the year their deferred dreams will truly materialize in 2023.
So, after thirty-five years in education, what would I wish for this year? What are my hopes for the teachers and students in each of our schools? I could make a grand and exhaustive list, but I will restrict it to three hopes:
- I hope that every student feels like they belong in each classroom they enter, that their uniqueness will be recognized and celebrated, that their contributions are respected and valued by peers and adults alike, and that the fabric of the classroom invites them to feel safe and loved.
- I hope that each teacher feels empowered to create classroom experiences that give children the true and unfiltered joy of learning that each of us at one time or another has experienced, that this joy is fueled by their curiosities and something about which they are passionate, and that they can share this passion with classmates and family members.
- I hope that every student believes that they have at least one adult who believes in them no matter what, a person who sees their inherent worth, their ability to contribute, and lovingly challenges them to be better versions of themselves.
The very lessons I came to learn in what seems like just yesterday continue to ring true: Students feeling loved and safe; Deep relational learning with peers and family; The joy and exhilaration of learning…. All guided by a skilled, loving and passionate teacher. I hope each of us will realize the promising dreams we have for the children in our care.