THUNDER BAY - Meena Prabhakar, a teacher who was born in India, said she is looking forward to all the things she will learn when she travels to Pikangikum First Nation later this year to teach Grade 3 students.
“I will be like a child when I go there because I want to learn everything,” she said. “How to live close to nature, how to live with limited resources, how to feel the cold. Real cold.”
Prabhakar was among 27 teachers from across Canada and the world taking part in the fifth cohort of the Teach for Canada program at Lakehead University.
Teach for Canada is a non-profit that runs an intensive enrichment program for educators to prepare them to teach in First Nation communities in Northern Ontario.
Liz Halina, director of teacher development of Teach for Canada said the program runs for three weeks and focuses on various aspects of Indigenous culture and teaching practices, outdoor education, and in-class pedagogy.
“We look at First Nations traditions, how culture is very relationship based versus a typical southern Canadian culture, which is much more task oriented and how to bridge relationships between those cultures,” she said.
Teach for Canada works with 19 First Nation community partners in Northern Ontario and participating teachers sign a two-year commitment or more to teach in these communities.
“Unfortunately, there has been a history of very high teacher turn over in the north,” Halina said. “Teachers just aren’t prepared for those cultural differences. When teachers go north, they have challenges with managing isolation and loneliness, being far away from family, and may not know how to work with First Nation communities.”
“We see ourselves as a bridge to teaching those teachers how to develop really positive relationships with communities, community members, and their students.”
The program has seen success so far and Halina said year to year they have had a 90 per cent retention rate from the start of the year to the end of the year.
“Communities have indicated to us that they are very pleased with the teachers and we see teachers go back for a second year, a third year, and a fourth year and we even have teachers going back for a fifth year in the communities we work with,” Halina said.
For Pamela and Gideon Thwaites, who are husband and wife and have been teaching around the world for more than 20 years, the opportunity to teach in Northern Ontario felt like a great way to return to Canada.
“We wanted to do it in a special way and a unique way for both of us and we’ve never had the opportunity to learn about or have firsthand experience with First Nation people in Canada and we thought it was the most awesome way to re-enter Canada,” Pamela said.
“It’s a great introduction for me to start with First Nations, coming from where I come from,” added Gideon, who is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. “I started my teaching in a similar community and its coming full circle for me now. It’s much more than being a teaching when going up there and I’ve been there and I am so prepared to go there again.”
Pamela and Gideon will be teaching in Fort Hope this year and they are excited to share this experience together and Pamela said the lessons they are learning through Teach for Canada have been invaluable.
“So far it has been an incredible learning experience where we are connecting with all of the other teachers going up north,” Pamela said. “We are learning some massive concepts, like the Truth and Reconciliation for the First Nations people in Canada. We want to learn as much as we can about the First Nations people in Canada and how to teach them best.”
Because teachers know better than anyone the value of learning new things.
“I’m a teacher, but my learning starts here,” Prabhakar said. I want to be a real teacher for myself as well.”