Stephanie Liew is Teach For Canada Teacher in Fort Severn First Nation. Stephanie joined Teach For Canada’s 2021 Cohort and accepted a position teaching Grades 1 and 2 at Wasaho Cree Nation School.
We connected with Stephanie to hear about her experiences in Fort Severn, and how building relationships with students has encouraged them to participate more fully in her classroom.
I’ve loved working in Fort Severn because there are so many opportunities to interact and build relationships with my students and community outside of school. I like to find opportunities to spend time outdoors with my students as much as I can. You can often find us wandering down to the river bank, taking a trip to the store, and when it’s snowy, going sledding.
I have also enjoyed participating in community events. Choose Life, a Nishnawbe Aski Nation program that funds several activities that promote mental, emotional, and behavioural well-being of youth, offers several programs in Fort Severn. I’ve been able to take part in beading and sewing nights, where we make mitts and moccasins. During the Christmas season, we’ve also had bingo and dice nights. These events were a lot of fun, and provided me with great opportunities to spend time with students and families.
This year has had its challenges, including the significant loss of in-person learning. Anyone with a family member who was returning from out of town had to isolate for 7 days, which has since dropped to 5. These isolation periods resulted in inconsistent attendance by students and staff.
These unpredictable changes and absences have encouraged me to adapt as an educator. I have learned that every day is different, and that I have to be ready to pivot, and make changes–sometimes with very little time to prepare. An important lesson that I’ve learned since becoming a Teach For Canada Educator is that you’re not alone. When I connect with other Teach For Canada teachers, I often hear that they are experiencing similar obstacles as I am. It’s nice to know that we’re in the same boat, and I appreciate being able to confide in them for advice and friendship.
When the heat broke down at our school and we had to temporarily close the building, some of my students asked me to take them sledding or go on walks together. The issues with the heating lasted longer than anticipated, and Wasaho ended up being closed for nearly five weeks.
Throughout this time, my TAs and I drove around Fort Severn to drop off and pick up schoolwork packages, which provided a great opportunity for us to say a quick hello to our students. I was pleased to see that a number of kids who didn’t regularly attend school were able to complete and submit homework packages to us.
One highlight of the closure was being able to use the school’s winter sports equipment to take students cross country skiing. I brought out some older kids who had expressed an interest in it, and later invited my class to give it a try.
I’ve made some amazing friends in Fort Severn who have demonstrated their unending hospitality in a number of ways. They’ve invited me to learn how to drive a four wheeler and ski-doo, spend time out on the land, go ice-fishing, bead earrings, build a fire, and bake homemade recipes together.
“Building relationships and trust with my students and their families has had a visible improvement on my students’ levels of engagement in class.”
I’m always encouraged when a pupil comes into my room with a big smile on their face, and is excited to tell me all about their day. I want students to feel cared for in my classroom, and for school to be a safe space for them.
I value Teach For Canada’s model, since it requires that educators make a 2 year teaching commitment to their community. This provides a clear trajectory for my next year, and allows me to plan for the future. I can think forward in my lesson planning, and figure out what I want to try again, or do differently in the following year. I’ve loved that I can tell my students that they’ll be in my class next year, or that I’ll be back–especially when our school had all new homeroom teachers at the beginning of the year.
I can’t wait to spend more time out on the land, and make lifelong memories with my students and their families. It is a gift to live and teach here in Fort Severn First Nation.