Debbie Kravis is the Special Education teacher in Poplar Hill First Nation. Debbie has ten years of teaching experience. She took a leave of absence from the Durham District School Board to pursue teaching in the North with Teach For Canada. Debbie completed a Master of Science in Childhood Education, Primary/Junior, with Literacy Specialization, at Daeman College Amherst, New York. She is originally from Toronto.
The decision to go North was one of the easiest and toughest decisions I have ever made. My heart knew that it was what I needed to do, but the thought of leaving my husband Paul behind for two years was painful and scary. After many long discussions weighing the pros and cons, along with Paul’s support, I took the leap and accepted the position of Special Education Resource Teacher in Poplar Hill First Nation. After 10 years of being a classroom teacher I was so excited to have the chance to support teachers and work with students on a more individual basis. The cherry on top was the opportunity to live remotely and to learn firsthand about an Indigenous culture.
After attending the Summer Enrichment Program in July-August, I arrived in my new home feeling prepared and ready to take whatever was thrown at me. It didn’t take long before I was thrown my first curve ball! One week into my new role, I was moved temporarily into Kindergarten because the teacher fell and broke her ankle. I quickly discovered the impact of being in a remote location when things go wrong. Because the injury wasn’t life threatening, the teacher had to wait until the next day to take a regularly scheduled flight to the nearest hospital, in Sioux Lookout. Then she had to fly to Thunder Bay. All this while suffering extreme pain. It really struck home how difficult it is for everyone who lives in Poplar Hill and other community when they need medical attention beyond what is available at the nursing station.
I ended up teaching Kindergarten for nearly three months because of a lack of substitute teacher in a small community like Poplar Hill. This left the role of Special Education Teacher vacant, until just this week, when I was finally able to return to my original role. The reality of teacher shortages is frustrating, but it also makes me feel even more confident that I need to be here to fill whatever gap needs to be filled. Although I really NEVER wanted to teach Kindergarten, I will admit that the children wormed their way into my heart and I enjoyed helping them blossom in their first year of school.
I’m also finally starting to feel like I am part of the community. It is a slow process and one I don’t want to push. As I have gotten to know the students, their parents, and the Teacher Assistants at school, I have developed some good relationships. I was very honoured to be given moose meat, fish, and partridge, and to have a community member teach my students and their Grade 8 buddies how to build a rabbit snare. I wanted to start a beading club with my Teach For Canada colleague Emily, but nothing happens quickly. We have put out some invitations and are waiting to find community members who would be willing to teach the children. All in good time.
Fast forward to November, and it seems like a lifetime ago that I was that urban dweller surrounded by endless amenities. Shopping malls have been replaced by pine forests, pavement and sidewalks are now snow covered trails and the only tall structure is the cell tower which everyone uses as the signpost to guide them back when they are out on the land or water. The Friday night highlight has become driving to the Northern Store in the “school limo” for a $10 milkshake, then checking for parcels from Walmart while chatting with school kids and parents. I have read ten books, hosted two dinner parties, canoed, hiked, learned to make moose burgers and partridge fingers, witnessed the northern lights, watched the bears at the dump, thrown a snowball before Halloween and had a hotdog cookout in the forest just because I could. I feel confident I made the right decision and I am really looking forward to Paul visiting me in February when the ice road is open and we can share that adventure together.
Debbie’s Top 10 List of Things You Need To Know About Living and Teaching in The North
10- Give up your Diet Coke addiction or you will go broke.
9- Always lock your door. Kids will walk right in – even it you are in the tub.
8- Learn how to say “listen,” “sit down,” “stop” and “come here” in Ojibwe (especially if you teach Kindergarten).
7- Bring a radio and join the community Facebook page or you will never know what’s going on.
6- Learn to bake – you will have more friends.
5- Bubble baths and candles are medicine.
4- Take advantage of the chance to drive vehicles you may never have driven before (skidoos, ATVs, etc.)
3- Try to avoid travelling on the school bus. You have never seen anything as wild and bumpy as a northern trip.
2- Bannock will replace all carbs.
1- Be fluid and flexible. Basically be liquid rubber. It’s going to change; it’s going to go wrong; it’s not going to make sense so let it go and keep on truckin’.