Teacher Appreciation Week shines light on educators

Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert Collegiate Institute (PACI) teacher Greg Walker stands beside a laptop computer at the front of his classroom. The increasing role of technology in education was a development noted by numerous local teachers as Saskatchewan celebrates Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week.

An oft-quoted proverb -- “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” -- aptly sums up the importance of the teaching profession.

The proclamation of Feb. 10-17 as Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week in Saskatchewan has helped bring the work of educators and school staff members across the province to greater public attention.

But even as teachers note how education has changed over the years -- most notably through the growing use of technology -- they also suggest that some things never change.

“I realized at a young age that teachers have the power and capability to change and inspire the lives of lots and lots of people,” Prince Albert Collegiate Institute (PACI) teacher Alicia Wotherspoon said.

She added, “We go to school every single day in the hopes of bettering the lives of our students, which are other people’s sons and daughters, and I can’t think of a more noble profession, really.”

Fellow PACI teacher Greg Walker -- now in his 20th year as an educator -- shared those sentiments, summing up his biggest motivation as “grad day.”

Noting the extent to which teachers at a smaller school such as PACI get to know their students personally and watch them mature over four years of high school, Walker pointed to the sense of pride graduation day can create in teachers.

“That happens on grad day in a big way,” he added. “But it also happens throughout your school year on a smaller scale, when you’ve got a student who you’ve been working with on something and they finally get it and you can kind of see that lightbulb go on -- or you see a student that maybe in the past has not put in the effort that you would like them to put in, and they suddenly turn over a new leaf and they kind of start to understand why this is important.

“They grow up a little bit, and that’s certainly rewarding.”

Walker’s entry into the teaching profession stemmed from his time as an instructor for the air cadets and his work at the Diefenbaker Centre in Saskatoon.

“Working with young people doing that … I found it quite rewarding and was told that I was good at it,” he recalled.

“You obviously like to move towards things that you enjoy some success with and so then as I got older, I sort of went that route and continued working with children.”

For Wotherspoon, growing up in a family of teachers helped impart upon her the positive qualities held by many educators.

“I always looked up to them, especially my mom, and found that teachers are caring and they’re creative and they’re hardworking, and would do just about anything for their students,” she said.

We go to school every single day in the hopes of bettering the lives of our students, which are other people’s sons and daughters, and I can’t think of a more noble profession, really. Alicia Wotherspoon

But it was Perry Acorn, her Grade 3 teacher at Arthur Pechey Public School, who taught Wotherspoon the impact that an educator can have on a student and “changed (her) life forever.”

“He now teaches at Vickers, and it was become of him that in Grade 4, I knew that I was going to be a teacher, just like him,” she said.

“He was one that just believed in me and pushed me to come out of my shell. I was really shy when I was younger and he just gave me the confidence, so I owe him a lot.”

St. Mary High School vice-principal Dale Regel first began teaching 37 years ago after realizing one of the only ways he could achieve his goal of staying active was to teach physical education.

Aside from increased paperwork, he acknowledged changing technology as one of the biggest differences in the teaching profession over the years.

“It’s been beneficial, and though I think in the old days students were still capable of learning in different ways, students nowadays are much more technologically aware and have a broader knowledge base due to their use of technology,” Regel said.

His PACI counterparts agreed, with Walker recalling that the computer lab in the first school he taught at only had one computer that was connected to the Internet.

By comparison, he noted, today every teacher at PACI has a laptop and every classroom has a SMART Board, with vast resources available online.

“At one time your library was it … whereas now, with the Internet and as a school division we have access to a lot of online databases and things like that, so the students really have access to a lot of information that they wouldn’t have had back then,” Walker said.

Wotherspoon said that the increasing use of technology has raised the bar for teachers by forcing them to become more creative in their lesson plans.

“It’s definitely an awesome tool to have,” she said. “But … the main reason why education has changed a little bit is that students now have this opportunity to learn whatever they want to learn themselves.

“So teachers now have to take more of a responsibility to inspire the students -- not just to teach them.”

Organizations: Prince Albert Collegiate Institute, Diefenbaker Centre, Arthur Pechey Public School Vickers Mary High School SMART Board

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

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