Our Stories

Completing the First Nations Education Circle


a) Transition Journey
Neepin Auger has become a well known and respected First Nations Artist and she has always had a passion as well for teaching and her dream was to one day be able to combine the two. This dream came true when she received a phone call this past summer from Lorianne Tenove, the Superintendent of the TsuuTina Reserve Schools, offering her a position as the Visual Arts Teacher for the Junior High School (grades 5 to 8). Neepin had first met Lorianne during her 3rd year practicum at St. Cyril Elementary and Junior High at which time Lorianne was the Principal of this school. Neepin also received offers of employment from the Calgary Board of Education and her home Cree community in Northern Alberta but she chose to begin her teaching career on the TsuuTina Reserve as this is where she thought she could make a difference for First Nations children.

b) Board and School Orientation and Support
Over the summer, the schools on the TsuuTina Reserve were reorganized so that only K to 4 children would attend Chula Elementary and Grade 5 to 8 children would now be located on the second floor of the High School. Unfortunately, this meant that Neepin was not able to access her new teaching space until two days before the school year and she is still waiting for her Art supplies to arrive. Besides her responsibilities for the Junior High Arts courses, Neepin is also the Grade 5&6 Homeroom teacher and in addition she teaches the Junior High Health courses.

Neepin is discovering that the Visual Arts classes are "very powerful for the students and a lot of them are really into it because of their attitude and previous history with reading and writing in English. In the other classes as soon as you pull out a book or some paper work the students panic and that's when the acting out starts. In my class, I have a lot less acting out because we focus on expressing our thoughts and telling our stories through visual mediums. At this point, I'm trying to teach them the basics like holding a paint brush properly as these Junior High students have never had an Art class or an Art teacher before. My vision is that once the supplies arrive the students will begin creating their own work, which will lead to a major Art project and exhibition at the end of the school year."

She is also finding that she is able to develop relationships and connections with her First Nations students through her Art classes. "I've noticed that since I'm not teaching a subject that the students find challenging like Math or Science that I can actually sit with the students while they are working and talk with them. I think that my conversations with them while they are drawing have almost become a form of counseling for some of them. I believe that Art can be a healing process for many of these students. Many of these children have bounced back and forth between city and reserve schools. The goal of the Tsu Tsina Nation is to get as many children as possible back to the reserve schools where there is more community support and parental involvement such as amazing breakfast and lunch programs."

c) First Year Teaching Goals
My personal goals for teaching in my first year were to use the knowledge I gained in school. I instantly realized how important it was to document and look back at what I had learned. When it isn't a reality you tend to put it on the back burner but as soon as I had a job I was trying to run through the last four years.

d) Anticipated First Year Teaching Challenges
The challenges are endless. I am most nervous about giving my students an authentic experience. I have always wanted to be a teacher who creates experiences they are memorable. However this takes endless time and energy. Learning to balance my home and work life is going to be my biggest challenge.

e) MRU B.Ed. Preparation for First Year Teaching
Neepin indicates that the B.Ed. program at Mount Royal University helped her prepare for her first year of teaching. "I learned a lot of tools and strategies that I have been able to immediately put into practice. I appreciated that there was more than just writing papers and book work involved with the program. I really liked that each semester we were out in Elementary schools, which allowed me to gain firsthand experience and perspectives. Even in our classes at MRU we just didn't sit for three hours - we got up and did things, we went places, and we saw possibilities." She also stresses how she learned the importance of planning "at the time I thought it was a nuisance but that is all real teachers do as you have to plan for each and every entire day for the children. You just can't stand up there and say nothing."

f) Recommendations to Improve the MRU B.Ed. Program
Cultural and diversity aspect is missing from the program. I didn't take the Aboriginal Studies course because it was not required yet but people really need to be exposed to school settings that are more culturally diverse. For the Aboriginal Course - MRU students needs to experience Reserve or City First Nations schools. They need to get in there and I know it's hard but they really need to do it - they have to see what it's like. We are currently sending teacher candidates to pretty safe and homogenous schools that lack in real cultural diversity.

g) Advice to First Year Students
Neepin's advice to students just starting the MRU B.Ed. program is to "never give up - become resilient. There were so many times I broke down in tears because I thought nobody really understood me and this is the same feeling the kids in this Tsu Tina Reserve school have. They were in city schools with teachers who didn't understand them. I think we all need to work together to create more inclusive cultural environments for all students in Alberta."