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Northern Practicum students hope to gain understanding of Indigenous communities

November 10, 2014 — 

Frontier-SD-hwy373.jpgIndigenous traditions, polar bear expeditions and unparalleled views of the aurora borealis—these are some of the unique experiences available to students who choose to do their teaching practicums in Northern Manitoba. And this year, the program has proven more popular than ever, with an increase in the number of students competing for spots.

In all, 11 Bachelor of Education students are participating in the Northern Practicum—four in Gillam with Dr. Barbara McMillan, four in Norway House with Dr. Frank Deer and three in Churchill with Dr. Richard Hechter.

That means the program, which began as a renewed partnership with the Frontier School Division in 2012-2013, has really grown in just a few short years, says Dr. Melanie Janzen, the Faculty of Education’s Director of School Experiences. That first year, the Faculty placed four teacher candidates in Northern Manitoba.

“This year we had 16 applicants [for the 11 spots], so I was thrilled,” she says.

The program began two years ago with several goals, says Janzen: to increase the number of practicum opportunities available to teacher candidates in rural and Northern communities, to cultivate a renewed relationship with Frontier, Manitoba’s largest geographical school division, to break down stereotypes about working in the North and to raise awareness of Indigenous traditions and communities. And, last but not least, one of its goals is to provide a viable source of employment for U of M Education students.

“Teachers have been getting hired by Frontier School Division [after they complete the practicum] which means that even Manitoba’s more remote communities are having the opportunity to hire new and vibrant teachers from within Manitoba instead of having to rely on hiring from Eastern Canada,” says Janzen enthusiastically.

Students often don’t consider the North when choosing practicums, says Janzen, but she adds those who have gone have not only learned about Indigenous classrooms but also have been embraced by the local communities.

“They’ve gone fishing, curling, they’re invited for dinners, they’re eating game and pickerel.

“It really breaks down stereotypes that our Teacher Candidates may have of Indigenous peoples and communities.”

Students headed out on this year’s Northern Practicum were anticipating a remarkable experience.

Sandra Eaton, in her 2nd year, says her interest was piqued last year during her Aboriginal Education course. Students took part in a variety of activities including beading workshops and spending time in a sweat lodge. Eaton sees the trip it as an adventure as she hasn’t spent a lot of time outside of Winnipeg.

“I’m excited to get to do that,” says Eaton, who is teaching Grades 7 and 8 in Gillam. She was trying not to develop preconceptions about the North before leaving, though she did get some good tips from McMillan, her adviser. During a seminar on culturally responsive curriculum prior to the practicum, McMillan told students that they might be surprised at how respectful and quiet students are in the North and that it may take them a bit longer to think about and answer questions.

Another 2nd Year student, Bailie Park-Payne, said before she left that she was most looking forward to teaching in Churchill because it’s a small, close-knit community. She’d like to learn as much as she can about Indigenous culture and develop a better understanding of the ways people live in the North. And the experience may set Park-Payne and her colleagues apart from other teacher candidates when it’s time to apply for jobs, she says. While in Churchill, Park-Payne is working with Hechter to develop a science curriculum that incorporates the northern lights in unique and interesting ways.

And, of course, there are the polar bears, too. She says the research centre there has its own tundra buggy so she’ll be taking her camera.

Seeing what land-based education looks like is one of the main reasons Morgan Schrader applied to the Northern Practicum. Based in Norway House under the advisement of Deer, Schrader plans to spend a fair bit of instruction time outside, connected to nature in the tradition of the community. As a Phys. Ed. and Early Years teacher candidate, she is hoping to learn about trap setting and some of the traditional sports that Frontier School Division promotes.

As well, no matter where her career takes her, “gaining that Aboriginal perspective is very much needed in any of the school divisions we are going into.”

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