Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Are You Providing an Education That Is Worth Caring about? Advice to Non-Native Teachers in Northern First Nations Communities

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Are You Providing an Education That Is Worth Caring about? Advice to Non-Native Teachers in Northern First Nations Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

The education of First Nations students in remote communities in northern Ontario remains an ongoing concern (Agbo, 2011; Oskineegish & Berger, 2013; Watt-Cloutier, 2000). According to the 2012 education report published by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), (1) students in remote communities in northern Ontario face greater challenges than students in urban settings due to insufficient funding, a high turnover rate of teachers, and frequent school closures. A large number of teachers who are hired to teach in First Nations schools are non-Native with varying experiences of living and teaching in remote First Nations communities (Anderson, Horton, & Orwick, 2004; Taylor, 1995). Research on non-Native teachers in remote First Nations and Inuit communities suggest that many of the difficulties that teachers experience stem from a lack of training and preparation in culturally appropriate practices, a disconnection from community, and feelings of isolation (Agbo, 2006; 2007; Berger & Epp, 2007; Harper, 2000). Compounded by the poor socio-economic conditions within some of the communities, the challenges of living and teaching in the North can feel overwhelming to many non-Native teachers. And yet, when these challenges monopolize conversations about teaching in First Nations communities, it can conceal the growing strength and expertise that also exists in remote schools and communities. Local First Nations teachers, education assistants, principals, and school board members are a tremendous resource for pedagogical mentorship for non-Native teachers new to a community. Their knowledge and experience of students, their families, and the community can assist non-Native teachers to adopt a place-conscious lens in which non-Native teachers bring local knowledge and activities into their everyday teaching practices (Chartrand, 2012). A place-conscious knowledge base provides teachers the foundation to develop pedagogical practices that align with the pedagogy of the local community and culture. Non-Native teachers who arrive in a First Nations community willing to learn from within the community will be more able to develop lessons and instructional strategies that are culturally relevant and meaningful to the students they are teaching.

This article discusses the ways in which non-Native teachers can learn to implement culturally relevant teaching practices specific to the community that they are teaching in. The findings are drawn from a qualitative study that asked experienced educators, both First Nations and non-Native who have taught in remote First Nations communities, what they believed non-Native teachers should know about planning lessons and teaching First Nations students in remote communities in northern Ontario. This article focuses on one aspect of their response that connects successful teaching practices with self-reflection, communication, community engagement, and the importance of having the right kind of attitude. It concludes with a discussion of how all three elements are connected to culturally relevant teaching.

Situating Myself

As a Euro-Canadian woman originally from southern Ontario, I began my teaching career in a remote First Nations community in northern Ontario. When I first arrived, I was told immediately by other educators to prepare my lessons for students in a combined Grade 7/8 class who worked below the provincial grade level. I accepted this statement to be true and began creating lessons accordingly. In the first few weeks of teaching I started to realize that much of what I knew about education was not working for the students. They were struggling to follow the lessons that I was teaching and I had the sinking feeling that I was failing as a teacher. Fortunately, I was also working alongside highly skilled and committed First Nations and non-Native teachers and education assistants who were willing to mentor me in developing lessons and pedagogical practices that were supportive of the students' well-being and academic growth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.