As a child, I dreamt of being an actor and writer. However, my desire to entertain did not fit well in a classroom setting. My parents, both teachers, sent me to boarding school for my last year of high school hoping that I would blossom into the dedicated student that they envisioned when they moved our family from Fiji to Canada. Luckily, by the time I completed my Master’s in Education at UBC (1998), I did flourish as a student and a teacher. The challenges I faced as a student created a passion for developing creative and inclusive learning practices for students.
As an elementary school administrator, I endeavoured to implement innovative programs and bring positive change. My focus was on staff development for inclusive learning, and student empowerment through community building and leadership. However, after working as a principal for ten years, I took a break to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a screenwriter. My initial plan was to return to school, but due to a couple of life-changing injuries, I was unable to continue. It’s been a hard, and sometimes overwhelmingly difficult road. No one likes to feel like a failure, and I did.
Giving up was not an option, and through hard work, perseverance, and determination, I’ve learned that the goal in life is to simply celebrate each step forward. In the process, I have become a stand-up comedian, writer, director, and producer. I am excited about the upcoming opportunity to capitalize on both of my passions, teaching and the creative arts, while embracing my new role as Dept. Head, Education Programs and Instructor, at the Drama Class. (thedramaclass.com)
What is your most memorable experience from your time in the Faculty of Education?
It was a long-held dream of mine to complete my Master’s at UBC, just like my parents and my husband did before me. Being in the Language and Literacy Masters Program was a perfect fit. I felt that my natural ability and approaches to teaching were being bolstered by theory. Little did I know then, how much taking a class in role drama would affect both my teaching and my life. Not only did I use role drama with all of my students from then on in, but also, I fondly remember my Prof, Sheila Ciszek, taking me aside one day and emphatically telling me that I had to go into drama. At the time, it wasn’t a possibility that I had considered, but now looking back, I appreciate her foresight.
Where has your education from the Faculty of Education taken you in your career?
After completing my Masters, I returned to the classroom and was encouraged by Dr. Marilyn Chapman (Prof. Emeritus), to become a faculty advisor and instructor in the Teacher Ed Program for the Early Literacy Primary Cohort. I was seconded for two years and enjoyed learning to work with adults as they prepared for their own roles as teachers. Later, both the education I received and the work that I did paved the way for me to become an administrator in Surrey and in Delta.
Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?
I believe that my mother, who may have been one of the first Fijian women of Indian descent to receive both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree at UBC, showed me early on what inclusion looked like. She was a pioneer in her field of special education and while working at Oakridge School for the Mentally Retarded she had the first class of children with special needs to be integrated into a mainstream school setting. Her classroom was an early precursor for the model of integration that exists in today’s schools. As a youngster, I visited her classroom often and saw how she treated all the children in her care as if their potential was endless. And it was! I carried this attitude with me throughout my career as an educator striving to include children with different needs, backgrounds, and challenges. All students can be successful if we establish approaches that connect with them, and measure their successes accordingly.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students? Newly graduated folks?
Oh yes, I do! First, forget about teaching and think about learning. It’s easy to stand at a whiteboard, click on a PowerPoint, or lecture a group. When we talk about learning, it is checking in with your students, finding out how they learn, motivating, and inspiring them to engage, taking them from that zone of proximal development to the next stage in their learning, with plenty of “aha’s” along the way. I love the idea of children dancing along their road to literacy and learning (to paraphrase Dr. Chapman). Second, set goals and celebrate every step forward. Every step along the way of a learning journey is progress. Especially in these times of Covid19, when learners have been set back by circumstances no one could have imagined, rather than stressing everyone out by thinking about how far back we’ve fallen, set new attainable goals, and build on successes.
I’ll leave you with a lesson I learned about what students are actually learning from our teaching. Years ago, I wanted the students to find the joy of writing their own stories, to unleash their imagination, and to be free in expressing themselves. Near the end of October, I asked those Grade 2s what was important about their writing. I expected to hear a cacophony: Good stories! Powerful words! Make it interesting! And instead, I heard a unified chorus of “Name and date and double space.”
Mindful teaching means being mindful of learning.