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The Northern Practicum Experience: Part 1

January 22, 2014 — 

In the Fall of 2013, three Teacher Candidates traveled to Northern Manitoba to complete their 1st term practicum in their final year of the B.Ed. program. Joshua Bergmann and Parker Bouvier went to Gilliam, while Marilena Kowalchuk traveled alone to Norway House. All three students provided blog entries to help share their unique experiences and how those experiences forever transformed them.

Preparing For & Arriving At Our Northern Practicum Placements

Tansi Gillamuhk,
Hello from Gillam!

Author: Joshua Bergmann

It was a humorous misunderstanding, which we all laugh about in hindsight that led to me teaching Cree. Back in Winnipeg, however, I received more than a few raised eyebrows when I told people about this opportunity…after all, a white guy teaching Cree?

Developing class materials: homemade Cree syllabic tiles! Photo by: Joshua Bergmann

Developing class materials: homemade Cree syllabic tiles!
Photo by: Joshua Bergmann

There is a growing movement in Manitoba to bring back the languages that were almost lost due to colonization. This is a complicated process, and having a white Cree teacher could be taken a lot of ways, but as soon as I stepped into the classroom all my worries were assuaged. My Collaborating Teacher (CT), who grew up speaking Cree, was incredibly patient with me as I fumble my way through the 15-syllable words that make up most of the language. I try to pay her back by making more classroom materials for her to use, as Cree resources are hard to come by. The students, a mix of aboriginal and non-aboriginal, were endeared by my pronunciation attempts, and I am now greeted with enthusiastic ‘tansi’s everywhere I go. We act out myths to learn the words for various animals, do a daily weather report, and play bingo with syllabics. I’ve honestly never had this much fun in a classroom before!

For me, this experience has reinforced the necessity of humility, the willingness to learn, and the value of making a fool of yourself to show that anyone can learn anything with enough dedication. There’s lessons to be learned from these experiences for us soon-to-be teachers, and also for all of us that are figuring out where we fit in this multicultural experiment called Canada.


Travel, Chainsaws, and Mathematics: My journey and introduction to Gilliam, Manitoba

Author: Parker (Reid) Bouvier

I completed my first practicum block experience in Gilliam, Manitoba. As a first year Education student I discovered the opportunity through an Education eNewsletter and I am thankful that I had this opportunity to teach in an inspiring community that I’ve grown to love. I am also thankful for the $1,000 bursary that I was awarded to help with traveling expenses. I truly feel like the faculty cares about my success in practicum.

Prior to leaving, we spent two action-packed months preparing to teach in the North by working on lesson plans, and doing group presentations. I then packed my stuff and left my apartment and lovely girlfriend, and loaded my car up with mostly food, literally to the roof.

The drive to Gilliam was harrowing. I wasn’t sure my car was going to make it at times on those long, lonely stretches of highway surrounded by forest but then the Tragically Hip’s Thompson Girl came on the radio and there’s a line in that song that goes, ‘Thompson Girl walking to Churchill.’ Coincidently it came on just after leaving Thompson, but it also encouraged me because even if my car dies, I might still have a walking chance. Luckily, I didn’t have to walk a step towards my destination and after some scary moments with my car putting up steep hills, and sailing by the great big Hydro Dams I arrived at my destination.

When I arrived the vice-principal of Gillam School gave me my key to my apartment. I then proceeded to unpack the car, although I was kind of exhausted from my white-knuckle ride. As I began to haul our stuff up three flights of stairs to our very comfortable apartments and struggle with boxes and bags a friendly bearded face greeted me on a snowmobile. It was my friend who works for Hydro, and he had arrived to help me with my baggage. Originally being from a small town, but having lived in the city for a number of years, I had almost forgotten what living in a small town is like. When you need help with something, you don’t even have to ask. People just show up!

My advice for traveling up to Gillam, and I hope you all will, is to leave early if you’re going to drive! The trip would have been a lot easier on me if I’d left first thing in the morning but I kind of procrastinated and took my time saying teary-eyed goodbyes. Also the Gillam school/ Manitoba Hydro provided us with everything except food, and bathroom stuff, so I didn’t need to pack as much as I did. We even have high speed Internet, and cable.

If you’re going to bring food, bring the specialty items that you probably won’t find in the Gillam Co-Op, and maybe enough fruit and vegetables to last you a week or two. Other than that the prices aren’t that much different. Also, dress warm (of course), but mostly importantly bring a good attitude.

Unpacked and Getting Settled
Not long after my arrival in Gilliam I walked into the Movember Social at rec center where there was a brand new chainsaw sitting on one of the tables. I couldn’t help being amused by this, but being from a small town I could relate to the quirks and uniqueness of living in a community like Gillam, and the practicality of owning a chainsaw in a remote northern community. This experience reinforced my eagerness to indulge in as much northern culture as possible.

My First Days
I was fortunate to be situated in Ms. Perepeluk’s classroom for the duration of my stay. She became a great mentor to both Joshua Bergmann and I throughout our practicum. We really had an easy time relating to her techniques and strategies for 21st century learning. Although sometimes it was a challenge to engage the students, I found that even on Monday she could get the kids interested. With her I was able to teach Grade 10 geography, Grade 9 Social Studies, and Grade 9 Math. Geography and Social studies were still a challenge, but my true test was trying to teach math, a subject that I had never had much luck with learning.

My first day I came in confident with this big idea of how I was going to introduce square roots with definitions, and notes, and classroom work. I was all excited because I had created my first worksheet with some software that came with the textbook. Halfway through my lesson the students seemed a little stumped. I had treated them as though they had been up all night learning square roots just like I had been, and got a little ahead of myself. Ms. Perepeluk had something prepared after lunch that was a little more basic to try and get the ball rolling, and we used my worksheet later in the week. Throughout the five weeks math became the subject that everyone in the classroom was really involved in, working hard, as a group of co-learners. That strong sense of community that I felt in Gillam translated to that math class where we all worked our butts off to try and achieve what Ms. Perepeluk called #mathswag. She said, ‘pretend like you are teaching to a classroom full of students that are the exact opposite of you. How would you teach that person?’ I will definitely be taking that advice forward.


Norway House Cree Nation
Helen Betty Osborne Ininew Education Resource Centre (HBOIERC)

Author: Marilena Kowalchuk

When I first learned about the Northern Practicum option, I knew that it would be an incredible experience for me. What I didn’t know was how incredibly valuable it would be. Talk about accelerated growth!

What an amazing, confidence-boosting feeling it is to be able to say “I did this”. I embarked on a journey, both literally and figuratively, which shows that I am willing to take risks, to challenge myself with new experiences, and to explore the boundaries of my comfort zone.

I chose Norway House Cree Nation because I heard a lot of positive comments about the community and the Helen Betty Osborne Ininew Education Resource Centre School (“HBO” for short) from the various folks that I asked, and because I wanted to experience what it was like to teach and live within a reserve community. Whether I choose to pursue a teaching career at a school in the Frontier School Division, or in an urban school in Winnipeg, gaining an understanding of the dynamics and complexities of living in a reserve community is helping me to be a better teacher.

Highway 373.  Photo by: Marilena Kowalchuk

Just making the drive – 800 km right up the middle of Manitoba – felt like an achievement. To the displeasure of my worried mother, I traveled to and from Norway House alone, by car, in the winter. I crossed the Nelson River via the Jenpeg Generating Station, an icebreaking ferry and by ice road. Really, it was not bad at all!

Then there is being the outsider in the school. In smaller communities new people always get noticed! However, I never felt unwelcome or unvalued. In no time at all, I was connecting with the students in my class, finding out their strengths and challenges, and discovering what motivates them. I am looking forward to making even stronger connections with them when I return in March, 2014.

After my four-week practicum block, I have evidence that shows I am a teacher-candidate who demonstrates independence and flexibility, and who welcomes (and can handle) new challenges. Perhaps more importantly, I have proven this to myself.

See The Northern Practicum Experience: Part 2 for the second half of the students practicum experiences.

One comment on “The Northern Practicum Experience: Part 1

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