Classroom Experience May 12, 2023

Teaching in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation: A Journey of Connection and Growth

Jamila Butt

Jamila Butt is a Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada alumni living and working in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN). She joined Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada in 2020 and has since taught Grades 7 and 6 at Otetiskiwin Kiskinwamahatowekamik Elementary School. Teaching in NCN has been a rewarding experience for Jamila, who has connected with community partners, learned about culture, traditions, and language, and gone above and beyond to make her classroom a welcoming space to connect with students. 


This Teacher Appreciation Week, Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada is highlighting educators like Jamila, who have demonstrated outstanding and continued dedication to their students. Read on to hear about Jamila’s journey and the valuable lessons she has learned while teaching in the North. From building a sense of community to embracing hands-on learning, she shares the joys and challenges of teaching in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.


Jamila Butt teaches Grades 7 and 6 at Otetiskiwin Kiskinwamahatowekamik Elementary School in NCN.


Since becoming a Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada Teacher in 2020, I have taught in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) in Manitoba. It has been a unique and rewarding few years–I am proud of the connections I have made with my students and community and how I have grown as an educator.


Upon my arrival in NCN, I was greeted with warm smiles and welcomes. The community members were eager to learn more about me, and I was equally excited to get to know them. As I stepped into my classroom, I knew that I had a big responsibility on my shoulders, and I was determined to do my best to succeed and support my students.


Jamila works with a student in her classroom.


As a teacher, it is my responsibility to provide a safe and nurturing environment for my students. This means creating a classroom where all students are respected and their individual needs are recognized and addressed. In my classroom, I am proud to have fostered a culture of collaboration, where each student feels comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas and where meaningful relationships are cultivated.


A highlight of this school year has been working with my class to create a DIY solar system to help with visual learning. I also had my students name and create their own planets, which was a great way to get them involved in hands-on learning. Seeing my students’ progress and the joy on their faces when they succeed have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my career.


Jamila’s student poses with a planet he made as part of a hands-on class activity.


One of the things I have learned since becoming a Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada Teacher is the importance of patience and the ability to learn quickly. My time here has reminded me that it is imperative for my classroom to be a safe and comfortable space where I can connect with my students, reflect on ourselves and talk things out. Over time it has been amazing to see my students build their emotional intelligence and abilities to express themselves.


As a teacher, I play multiple roles in the lives of my students. Sometimes, my role is of a tutor or a therapist, and other times, a friend.


I believe that having patience and versatility in taking on different roles is what makes a good teacher. Over the past year, I faced challenges getting my students to speak up about what was bothering them. To address this, I encouraged them to write about their feelings instead of speaking out loud about them. 


Teaching in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has been a unique and rewarding experience. I’ve learned about culture, traditions, and language and have made lifelong connections with my students and their families. 


Jamila has enjoyed spending time out on the land getting to know her colleagues and community members. Here she is pictured on a camping trip.


If you’re a teacher considering a position in a First Nation, I encourage you to just do it. It may be challenging, but the rewards are immeasurable. You’ll be making a positive impact in the lives of your students and will learn and grow as a teacher and individual.



Are you a certified teacher interested in going North with Gakino’amaage: Teach For Canada? Learn more and apply.