Black Press caught up with some of the previous nominees for this instalment of the Great Teachers feature. The series, sponsored by Staples in collaboration with Camosun College, applauds the dedication and stellar work of teachers and the important role they play in building a better future through positive interaction with their students.
Ask any music teacher and they will describe what they do as a “fun gig”, says Parker Jolliffe, who teaches junior and senior band, jazz and rhythm and blues at Esquimalt High School. When asked about being one of the Great Teachers nominees from last year, Jolliffe described the experience as a combination of “humbling and validating.”
“I’m sure any teacher would feel that way and every teacher is humble about that sort of thing,” he said. “You want what’s best for students, and for me, personally, you hope you’re creating the best atmosphere.”
The self-described, self-deprecating hopelessly modest trombone player is in his eighth year of teaching, a career he finds rewarding to a fault.
“It’s the kids in the community that make this group run,” he explained. “I feel privileged to be part of the process. I could easily think of 10 or 15 other teachers on staff here who are probably more deserving.”
Much more at ease speaking about his students than himself, Jolliffe did share his lifelong passion for the Boston Bruins. “My dad was born in Boston so I didn’t have a choice,” he offered in his defence, adding that receiving a letter from Bruins legend Cam Neely on his wedding day was “one of the coolest gifts ever.”
Jollife likes to spend his free time with his “sweetheart” sailing around in their little dingy. The couple are expecting their child, a boy, in June. It’s a given the little lad will be wearing the Bruins’ black and gold shortly after birth.
Karen Oraas recalled a flood of calls to her parents from their friends after her Great Teachers nomination last year. She was thrilled when the nomination led to Carmen Sawchuck choosing to observe one of her classes last year. “She’s one of the pioneers of French immersion and was very pleased to see the level of French in my class,” said Oraas. “That was very gratifying and wouldn’t have happened without the Great Teachers nomination. I like how Black Press did the series. Hearing what other people have to say makes your job worthwhile.”
“It’s like receiving a card from a parent highlighting things that lets you know you’re doing your job well.”
Oraas, who is in her 17th year of teaching, moved within the Victoria School District this year to Macaulay elementary after a number of years at Doncaster elementary.
“Changing schools has been a seamless adjustment,” she noted during an interview between classes. “The teaching plan I have works with different classes with different personalities.”
Dedication to her craft leaves little time for a social life, but that’s just fine with Kiersten Brookes.
“I’m in bed by nine every night and I’m sure that’s true of a lot of teachers,” she said. “I store up energy on the weekends to be able to give my all during the week. When you are in public and putting on a show to a degree, it takes a lot to give your best every day. Children are our future, so it’s important to nurture them and create good learners and hard workers for our society. It can be very draining, but very enriching.”
In her 21st year of teaching, the past 13 at Strawberry Vale elementary, Brookes has found her niche teaching younger students. A year of teaching Grade 10 English helped her realize she prefers a multi-disciplinary and versatile approach that teaching a variety of subjects to elementary school students provides.
“Sometimes there’s issues engaging teenagers because of their age and the being cool factor,” she explained. “I find teaching younger kids more motivating and fun and they’re easier to reach.”
Brookes describes herself as quite an introverted, emotional person who thrives on putting a lot of passion and effort into her work. “I love teaching,” she said. “You get to inspire kids and make a real difference in their lives.”
After a 35-year career in teaching, Marilyn Hodgson finds herself following a familiar path. A Great Teachers nominee in 2014, Hodgson volunteers two mornings a week in the classroom at Kelset elementary, and spends another morning conducting a running class.
“For me, I couldn’t just retire and say I’m out of here,” Hodgson explained. “I need to stay connected with the students and I love the chance to make a difference and stay in touch with my colleagues.”
Hodgson is a firm believer in setting high standards that her students can reach. “It builds pride. Success is huge when you make it fun. Extra curricular is huge as well.”
For many people, playing a number of sports and getting involved in the arts are some of the best experiences they took away from school.
“Communication and engagement with parents is key as well,” said Hodgson, who would send out a 300- to 500-word email to parents every Sunday to let them know what her students achieved during the past week and what they would be learning in the week ahead.
“Parents want to be informed,” she noted.
Hodgson said being nominated in the Great Teachers feature the year she retired was a great honour.
“I was blown away to be acknowledged by parents,” she said. “I thank Black Press and the sponsors for their efforts in highlighting the difference teachers can make in the lives of their students.”
If you would like to honour a teacher in recognition of the great work they do, let us know who they are, where they teach, what grade and why they are deserving. Go to SaanichNews.com, click on the Great Teachers icon and nominate the teacher of your choice by May 29.