A Teacher Without Borders: Ms. R

Ms. R is one of the younger staff members we have here at WCI who’s involved in more than just one area of the school. Ms. R teaches science at multiple grade and skill levels as well as ELL courses. She coaches the senior girls’ soccer team, and she helps to produce WCI’s Multicultural Show. Multi is a production with heavy student involvement, especially from those with different home countries and cultural backgrounds, something Ms. R is more closely tied to than you might think.

I sat down with Ms. R to find out more about one of the most diverse young teachers WCI has to offer. The following are excerpts from our interview:

JT: When you were my teacher in grade 9, I remember you telling our class some stories about where you came from. So let’s start there. Where did you grow up?

R: I grew up on a tiny island in the Caribbean called Trinidad and Tobago. So it’s really two islands, but I was born and raised in Trinidad.

JT: How old were you when you came to Canada?

R: I was 20 years old when I came to Canada.

JT: Was there a time when becoming a teacher was just an idea, or is it something you’ve always aspired to be?

R: Teaching opportunities just fell into my lap, so to speak. After my first year of university, when I went back home for that summer, my cousin in-law actually came to me with a vacancy and said: “We need a science teacher ASAP. Will you be willing to teach?” So, I got thrown into a high school situation teaching science, and I really liked it. In my third and fourth years of university, I decided to explore it a little more and become a TA, which is a Teaching Assistant, so I ran labs for first and second year science students. Even after all that, it didn’t really register in me that teaching was a career [option] because at the time I was aiming to do medicine or some sort of health sciences, but then after getting experience with those things (I volunteered in a hospital) I found that I didn’t really like it anymore so it was no longer a career I wanted to explore.

I had to take a year between my undergraduate studies and teacher’s college to reflect, and it was something one of my university professors said that really solidified it for me. She asked me what I missed most about university. Without thinking, I said TA-ing. So then she asked me why. I then went on to tell her that in two years I had great students every single semester. They read their labs, did well on their quizzes, did their labs well, and even cleaned up all the equipment! I told her I could not believe that I was so lucky to get amazing students every single semester! After my long ramble, she said to me: “It’s not them, it’s YOU.” I think that was the moment I really became aware that teaching was a pretty amazing option for me.

JT: That’s a very interesting story! So, being from Trinidad, what was the education system like there compared to Canada?

R: We sort of pattern from the British education system, and it’s very academically driven so at the age of 10 you’re already writing a standardized exam. And your performance determined which high school you went to. It’s kind of like a streamed system, so all the kids who did really really well went to one school, mediocre kids went to other schools, and then the kids who did really really poorly went to [other] schools. There ends up being a big disparity between schools and the achievement levels of each one. Then in high school, which starts at age 10 or 11, you attend for five years and then write your O-Levels and then after two more years you write A-level exams.

JT: So it’s more fast-paced than how we do things here in Canada.

R: Yeah, for sure.

JT: When I was in grade 9, you were very new to WCI. It’s been three years since then and with each course I take as a student I grow and acquire more knowledge and skills. In that same amount of time, would you say you’ve grown as a teacher?

R: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, just from gaining more experience. I’ve taught probably hundreds of kids by now and just based on courses I’ve been able to teach a wide variety of things. I’ve taught grade 9 applied, academic, and ESL [science]. I’ve taught grade 11 and 12 chemistry, and grade 11 and 12 biology. The breadth of courses I’ve taught is very wide. So to answer your question in terms of experience, yes definitely.

JT: Has your experience at WCI been a positive one thus far?

R: Thus far, yeah. Generally it’s been very very positive. I have great colleagues to work with and as a newer teacher it was great to have more experienced teachers around me to show me the ropes and help me along the way.

JT: In today’s world especially, we’re told as young people that we can be anything we want to be. Is being a teacher something you can see yourself doing up until you retire or are there other career paths you would maybe like to explore?

R: Definitely until I retire. I don’t think I’ll get bored doing this at all just because of the different students that you get every year and it always changes. The courses might change or they might redesign the whole curriculum and then you might have to start all over. So you’re not doing the same thing everyday, which is the one thing I dread the most. Doing the same thing everyday would drive me crazy, but with this you get to do something different and it’s fun. Teaching is the best part of my day!

JT: You’ve been involved with the production of WCI’s multicultural show more than once. What has that experience been like for you?

R: It’s been chaotic and wonderful all at the same time. I think [embracing the differences] in school is very valuable and in recent years I’ve been teaching more ESL courses and with that comes the awareness that ESL students are usually just pushed to the edges of this school. So, having a production where they can have ownership over something, when it can be successful and a great show … it’s just very rewarding that we can take someone who barely speaks any English, (sorry I’m getting emotional) and get them to eventually lead a whole production by grade 12. That’s like, really really special for me.

JT: Would you say that’s what’s drawn you to do it multiple times?

R: Yes, exactly.

JT: Being from a country outside of Canada, do you feel it’s easy to connect with some of the students that are involved with Multi?

R: Yeah, definitely. English is my first language, but apart from that everything else is similar. The immigration process to come to Canada … I had to go through that just as they did. I also had to learn about a new culture. It’s the same thing they are doing right now. It’s more that they connect to me in a big way. They see me as someone who shared some sort of similar experience with them.

JT: To wrap things up: as a teacher, how would you finish this sentence? It’s been a good day when…

R: When I touch the life of a student and when students can make me laugh.

It’s important to recognize the diversity within WCI, not of the students, but of the teachers as well. I felt it was important to do this interview not only because I was once lucky enough to have Ms. R as a teacher, but also because I feel both students and the school community don’t get enough opportunities to really get to know and understand teachers. Everyone has a story to tell.