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Despite all the turmoil, teachers still do care 0

Ross McIntyre

It is no secret this year has been a difficult one for schools — especially those in the public sector. Our education system is a juggling act between the interests of the provincial government, boards, administrators, parents, students and, of course, teachers. All of these interests funnel into an end product that is education as we know it.

With so many stakeholders, it is no surprise the interests do not always align perfectly.

The interests of all of these parties create a spectrum where, on one end, we have the broad rhetoric and political agendas and on the other end is the day-to-day reality in schools.

If we look back at the rhetoric of the past six months, the government was “bullying teachers” and teachers were not “putting students first.” These were taglines and made for run-of-the-mill sound bites. This is not placing blame in any camp since we are already moving beyond that point. This column is more interested in the other end of that spectrum. How did all of this translate into the everyday reality in local schools?

I am fortunate to have a role that brings me to a number of schools each month to facilitate programming based on experiential education. The Camp Couchiching outdoor centre also serves as a great opportunity to chat regularly with educators.

In the past six months, I encountered teachers and administrators who were fearful of what Bill 115 would mean for the future, but still entirely connected to the meaningful education and positive experiences of their students. Taking a group to an outdoor centre or hosting programs in their classrooms is testament to the fact at no point throughout all of this did our local teachers stop caring.

Most teachers are incredibly aware of the connection between an environment and learning and, even in a tumultuous climate, the teachers I encountered held the best interests of their students close.

One school had just finished a full day of outdoor winter activities when I had come by to meet with one of the staff. She was no doubt a bit tired from the day in the snow, but was smiling, and so were the kids as they left.

Another meeting at a different local school in December was delayed for about 10 minutes because nearly the entire staff had to put the finishing touches on the songs and skits they were doing for a school-wide assembly. I can only assume the students were as entertained by all of this as I was during that rehearsal.

Another local school has, in the past six months, emerged as a leader in bullying awareness and proactive prevention of this destructive act within its school community.

These stories are anecdotal, but I would wager they are just a few of many examples of local teachers finding creative ways to better the day-to-day realities of their classrooms and schools.

Educators are valued less for their knowledge of a particular subject and more for the ability to meaningfully connect with those they teach. As a test of this, recall your favourite teacher from school. What was that teacher’s strongest subject to teach? We remember the human relationships more than the details.

We are now on the upswing from a trying six months and perhaps now we are at a point where we can begin to see and value teachers for what they are — exceptional community builders.

Ross McIntyre is a director at Camp Couchiching and the Couchiching Community Initiative. He is passionate about outdoor education and community building. This column profiles community organizations dedicated to Orillia and opportunities for local youth engagement. If you have a story idea, email rossmcinty@gmail.com.

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