U of A pro­gram pre­pares teach­ers for unique role

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JANET FRENCH

Ali­cia Car­di­nal can re­mem­ber play­ing “teacher” as early as age four.

With a sign for her desk read­ing “Mrs. Car­di­nal,” she handed out work­sheets for her brothers to com­plete early in the morn­ing, be­fore their par­ents were out of bed. Her fa­ther was a teacher, and she yearned to fol­low his lead.

Now, the 20-year-old from the Buf­falo Lake Métis Set­tle­ment is part of a new stream of the Univer­sity of Al­berta’s Abo­rig­i­nal Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram (ATEP).

“School is one of those places (chil­dren) go not just to learn, but they feel at home. I just want to be that place, where they just love to en­joy to come ev­ery sin­gle day,” Car­di­nal said.

Since 2002, pro­fes­sors at the helm of ATEP have been re­cruit­ing and train­ing First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit teach­ers by of­fer­ing cour­ses and in-class­room train­ing through col­leges and schools close to First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. Af­ter two years of course work at one of four col­leges, the fu­ture teach­ers do two years of pro­fes­sional train­ing in schools close to home.

The univer­sity cre­ated the pro­gram to meet the de­mand for teach­ers who are al­ready con­nected to In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, said ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor An­gela Wolfe, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of ATEP.

The pro­gram has grad­u­ated more than 200 el­e­men­tary school teach­ers in the last 15 years, and about 90 per cent are work­ing where they’d hoped, she said.

Af­ter sev­eral years try­ing to find the funds, ATEP added an ur­ban pro­gram in Edmonton this fall, which will equip grad­u­ates to teach ju­nior and se­nior high school. There are many In­dige­nous peo­ple liv­ing in the Edmonton area, and a grow­ing de­mand for ed­u­ca­tors who can con­fi­dently teach First Na­tions his­tory, the long-term ef­fects of res­i­den­tial schools and how stu­dents can ap­proach rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Also, new pro­fes­sional stan­dards un­der de­vel­op­ment for Al­berta teach­ers will “call upon teach­ers and school lead­ers to demon­strate a high level of com­pe­tency for sup­port­ing First Na­tions, Métis and Inuit stu­dent achieve­ment,” Lind­say Har­vey, press sec­re­tary for Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter David Eggen, said in an email.

Eggen has said lessons about the sig­nif­i­cance of res­i­den­tial schools and treaties will be a manda­tory part of the new K-12 cur­ricu­lum cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment.

Start­ing last year, the gov­ern­ment in­vested $5.4 mil­lion to train all 42,000 Al­berta ed­u­ca­tors how to teach First Na­tions, Inuit and Métis his­tory and per­spec­tives.

Wolfe said putting more In­dige­nous teach­ers in front of all stu­dents is key to clos­ing a sub­stan­tial gap in achieve­ment and grad­u­a­tion that dogs the prov­ince’s In­dige­nous stu­dents.

Those teach­ers haven’t just read about the res­i­den­tial school trauma that trick­les down be­tween gen­er­a­tions — they’ve lived it, she said.

Dur­ing the last school year, nearly 51,000 stu­dents, or about seven per cent of stu­dents en­rolled in provin­cially run schools, self-iden­ti­fied as In­dige­nous, ac­cord­ing to Al­berta Ed­u­ca­tion. The data does not in­clude stu­dents who at­tend fed­er­ally funded First Na­tions schools.

A 2016 sur­vey of Al­berta Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers found 3.1 per cent of re­spon­dents iden­ti­fied them­selves as “Abo­rig­i­nal.”

In­dige­nous teach­ers and prin­ci­pals need to be “nor­mal­ized,” not per­ceived as an anoma­lous suc­cess story, Wolfe said.

“I know and I be­lieve ed­u­ca­tion is the path to change. It is the place of com­pas­sion. Our stu­dents are fal­ter­ing in the school sys­tem,” she said.

“One way is to put teach­ers in the schools who have an un­der­stand­ing and a pas­sion and the background of the world view and his­to­ries and per­spec­tives.”

New ATEP stu­dent Sean Gray, 17, no­ticed the sparse num­ber of In­dige­nous teach­ers grow­ing up at­tend­ing Ki­task­i­naw School on the Enoch Cree Na­tion west of Edmonton.

She clung to her In­dige­nous Grade 2 teacher, she says. She hopes her fu­ture stu­dents will cling to her, too.

At Edmonton’s Blessed Os­car Romero Catholic High School, Gray was in­volved with the Braided Jour­neys pro­gram, in which a grad­u­a­tion coach gives stu­dents ad­vice and a sense of con­nec­tion. The pro­gram, which has helped in­crease the grad­u­a­tion rate of In­dige­nous stu­dents at Edmonton Catholic Schools, has now been adopted by Edmonton Pub­lic Schools and some north­ern On­tario schools.

It was through Braided Jour­neys that Gray be­gan vol­un­teer­ing with lit­tle kids.

She loved it.

When her grad­u­a­tion coach shared some de­press­ing sta­tis­tics about In­dige­nous stu­dents’ school suc­cess rates, and the like­li­hood of stu­dents with dis­ci­pline prob­lems to end up in prison, she was aghast.

“I wanted to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing ... and help them find their path, and in­spire them,” she said.


The new group of ur­ban ATEP stu­dents, who have just be­gun their four-year train­ing, must meet iden­ti­cal re­quire­ments as other bach­e­lor of ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents.

The dif­fer­ence is the ex­tra sup­port avail­able, Wolfe said. They have ac­cess to a lounge where they can study and work on projects, and el­ders and men­tors to turn to for ad­vice, aca­demic or oth­er­wise. ATEP also of­fers ex­tra pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment to ex­pose the fu­ture teach­ers to In­dige­nous teach­ing re­sources.

A huge ur­ban cam­pus can be an in­tim­i­dat­ing place for peo­ple who have spent most of their lives in small com­mu­ni­ties, Wolfe said.

Those ex­tra sup­ports make all the dif­fer­ence, Gray and Car­di­nal said.

“It re­ally brings our peo­ple to­gether, and I think that’s such an im­por­tant thing. It makes you re­al­ize that you’re not the only one go­ing through this, and you’re not alone, and there’s some­one there for you. It’s com­fort­ing,” Gray said.

Just as Car­di­nal was gear­ing up to leave home and be­gin her adult life, her fa­ther died.

Her in­spi­ra­tion, and the per­son she’d looked up to for­ever, was gone. She’s had some dif­fi­cult days since then.

“I can’t even ex­plain how good a sup­port you have here,” Car­di­nal said.

“I hon­estly don’t know how to put into words how awe­some it is.”


Sean Gray, 17, left, and Ali­cia Car­di­nal, 20, pic­tured at the Univer­sity of Al­berta are part of the first group of stu­dents to en­rol in the univer­sity’s ur­ban Abo­rig­i­nal Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram.


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