Personal Growth January 8, 2018

So, what’s it like teaching on a reserve?

Andrea Girt

Andrea Girt has been teaching Kindergarten at Waninitawangaang Memorial School in Kejick Bay, Lac Seul First Nation, since September 2017. Andrea completed her Bachelor of Education at the University of Toronto. She is originally from Hamilton, Ontario.

 

Kindergarten teacher Andrea Girt outside in winter

Kindergarten teacher Andrea Girt outside in winter in Lac Seul First Nation

 

Since I was a young child, I’ve always written in journals to reflect on my life. I still sometimes find old diaries in my childhood bedroom when I’m visiting my parents and I can’t help but laugh at the observations that my seven year old self made. It’s been a while since I’ve written and really reflected on the recent changes in my life. I didn’t intend for my passion for writing to fall to the wayside like it has. But life got busy. And exhausting. Teaching Kindergarten all day, every day, five days a week has really gotten the best of me for the last several months.

I once had a mentor tell me, “During your first year of teaching, you will be the most tired that you have ever been in your entire life.”

I kind of scoffed at him then, but now I truly know what he meant. I’ve been wanting to write since September. I have written posts in my head numerous times. But by the time I get home each night after listening to someone cry or scream every five minutes, discovering that small humans have wiped their boogers on my shirt all day, and laughing with my colleagues so that I don’t cry, I usually collapse on the couch, eat dinner, have a hot bath, and am asleep by 9 pm. The thought of sitting down for a period of time using my brain to critically think and write? Ha.

 

Dogs walking in the snow in Lac Seul First Nation

Dogs walking in the snow in Lac Seul First Nation

 

I finally found some time to write, over the holidays. It’s been a wonderful and lazy break, one that was much needed. Though call me crazy but I missed my small humans. I missed our classroom. I missed our community. I can’t wait to see them and hug them again.

 

One of the lakes in Lac Seul First Nation in winter

One of the lakes in Lac Seul First Nation

 

Over the break, I found it impossible to describe the life that I live now to family and friends when I was asked, “So, what’s it like teaching on a reserve?”.

 

Kindergarten students go for a walk in the woods to find a Christmas tree

Kindergarten students go for a walk in the woods to find a Christmas tree

 

It’s difficult to accurately communicate the beauty of the land that I live on, as an invited guest. I struggle to capture the resilience and strength of my children, especially the ones who face challenges far beyond their years, and how they show forgiveness and grace on a daily basis.

The simple joy they express in everyday life and how they remind me to slow down and enjoy the little things, too, like eating freshly fallen snow or making snow angels.

I try to capture the sense of culture and relationships that nourish and sustain the community I live in, like a smudging ceremony to open the school year, drinking cedar tea at school in the winter, or having a father come into my classroom to teach and drum with my students. The fact that my non-local colleagues and I have been accepted with open arms by the members of Lac Seul First Nation, despite the complicated historical relationships that exist between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. I can’t express the joy I felt when I took my students out into the forest in snowshoes to harvest a class Christmas tree. I can’t describe how it felt to decorate the tree together or to hear their shouts of joy when they unwrapped their very own copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Chicka Chicka Boom, our class favourites. I get asked to read these stories at least four times a week and then am usually drowned out by the voices of the children excitedly reading along out loud, having memorized their favourite parts of the books.

 

Students admire the presents under the Christmas tree

Students admire the presents under the Christmas tree in Kejick Bay, Lac Seul First Nation

“And everyone says this love will change you. Well I ask, isn’t that what love’s supposed to do?”

On my flight home for the holidays, I was listening to a song by the Weepies called Same Changes and when I heard those lines, I thought, “Exactly – that’s what this is all about.” So, what’s it like teaching on a reserve? I have been forever changed. I have opened my heart to experience it all – the good, the bad, and the mundane – and I am better for it. I am better as a teacher but I am also fundamentally better as a human. How lucky I am to have 17 little teachers who remind me daily how to love more freely and how to be resilient in the face of adversity. Kejick Bay, I am so happy to be back.