Back in the fall of 2001 I left a teaching position in the Northwest Territories to begin teaching grade 6 in a small fly-in community in northern Manitoba. Northern Canada was still very much an alien place to me back then and I'm sure I appeared very much to be an alien to the young charges for whom I found myself responsible.
To say it was a difficult year would be an understatement. I developed a rather serious skin rash due in part to the community being under a "boil water advisory" for the entire school year. A close relative of one of my students was murdered. A young pre-school girl was tragically run over by her school bus and killed. I recall one day after sitting at my desk in empty class in tears as I questioned my roll and purpose after a day where it appeared blatantly obvious that despite my best intentions, I was failing to get through to my students. Suffice it to say, it was a year of many challenges.
If there was one bright spot that year, it was that I was privileged to have a young girl in my class named Nicole. While she was the smallest girl in the class, she had the biggest personality, always smiling, a great communicator and very determined to succeed, easily one of those students you feel fortunate, indeed honoured, to have had the opportunity to work with. I knew back then that this girl had "university-bound" written all over her.
It is often said that in education you're dealing with long-term investments in people and so you don't see the result until much later. I left the community not knowing what the future would hold for her but trusting that her determination and hard work would pay off in the end, even if the result would never be known to me. Except....it was.
With the growth of social media, I was able to get back in touch with Nicole a few years later and was quite thrilled to learn that she had been accepted in to an undergraduate program at the University of Brandon. Her strong work ethic was paying dividends. I'm sure transitioning from a remote community to a university town was no easy task. Certainly I can relate to that as leaving my small Ontario town for a major city to attend school posed challenges for me as well.
Challenges, but also opportunities. As it was clear that Nicole had every intention on making good on the opportunities she had. As it turned out, her undergraduate degree was just a warm up for the Bachelor of Education program she later enrolled in. Nicole was setting her sights on becoming a teacher herself and to say I was really damned proud of her would be a colossal understatement.
Fast forward to Spring 2016 and she is no longer the young girl with the long brown hair I remember her as, though I'm sure the big smile I remember remains. As I write this, Nicole stands on the cusp of graduating with a Bachelor of Education degree.
Words fail me at times, and this is one of them. so, using the excuse of a being a gushing former teacher of hers, I will proudly defer to her own words as I feel she expresses herself very well...
Graduation will be May 27, 2016. It took quite awhile to get to where I am today. Believing in yourself and determination and get you through anything! I am glad I got to do my last placement in my hometown and possible employment with Frontier School Division as a teacher in the near future....you have the potential to become whatever you want - set no limits and just do it!
Nicole, I wish you all the very best :)