Nunavut students say teachers key to academic success

”They’re very interested in learning.”

By SARAH ROGERS

Research in Nunavut schools shows students believe that good teachers are key to academic success.

As part of an ongoing study on education across the territory, University of Manitoba researchers looked at perceptions of learning success among Grades 5 to Grade 8 students in the North Baffin region.

Students placed importance on teachers who cared not only for them as people, but also for how they performed in the classroom, says the report “She can bother me, and that’s because she cares” : What Inuit students say about teaching and their learning, recently published in the Canadian Journal of Education.

As quoted in the paper’s title, one student said her teacher “can bother me, and it is because she cares. We think that she cares about everyone the same way. [A student] doesn’t come to school and she cares about that. It doesn’t matter what it is. We know the [whole] class is important.”

Students also responded well to material and directives that were culturally relevant, the researchers found.

Based on information the students provided to researchers, researchers offer a profile of the characteristics of effective teachers in Inuit schools.

Effective teachers were found to:

• help students to persevere and work through to an end, as opposed to simply evaluating a product on its outcome;

• develop a co-operative and co-generated learning environment;

• communicate to their students that they care about them personally, as well as their educational success;

• allow room for students to use their first language in the classroom;

• communicate clearly and concisely with their students;

• use local context and resource materials in their teaching;

• recognize that they can and must change their teaching to help students learn.

“I think some of the elements here could have been predicted,” research project leader Brian Lewthwaite said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

“One of the strongest aspects was that these middle year students… had very clear ideas about what effective teachers are.

“Maybe as educators we don’t think students are conceptualizing what good teachers are, but these students are very aware. And Nunavut students deserve effective teachers because they make a difference in their learning.”

Lewthwaite said teachers who are new to the territory need proper support and training to transition to their new environment.

“In my opinion, these characteristics need to be made very clear,” Lewthwaite said. “It’s a tragedy for both teachers and students… to expect teachers to come north and make their own way finding out what is effective pedagogy.”

Many people stereotype northern students as lacking the motivation or the family support to do well in school, Lewthwaite said.

“All too often, we shift our focus on the lack of capabilities,” he said.
“(These students) are not pointing their finger at teachers, but rather identifying characteristics that will help them succeed.

“They’re very interested in learning and they want to be successful.”

The research did not refer to any students who identified environmental factors as having an impact on their learning.

“From what I’ve seen, a sense of success is embedded in the way these students were raised,” Lewthwaite said. “It’s not like schooling [in the north] in new. This is 2010.”

But are these attributes outlined in the research unique to teaching to Inuit students?

“Many would be common to effective teachers anywhere,” said Lewthwaite. “But they’re amplified in northern settings, and maybe some are unique to indigenous settings.”

Lewthwaite, who has taught across Canada’s north for many years, is now doing research on Maori education in New Zealand.

“Locating the resources we use in the northern context is very important,” he said.

One document often overlooked by teachers across Nunavut is Inuuqatigiit: The Curriculum from the Inuit Perspective (GNWT, 1996), written by Inuit educators, which emphasizes the importance of observation and imitation.

Ultimately, it explains, through repetition and practice, students become confident enough to do something independently.

Inuuqatigiit is a useful tool for new and experienced teachers to reference, he said, as it fits the criteria students identify.

Lewthwaite won’t say if he thinks teachers across the territory are highly effective or otherwise, but “clearly there are both ineffective teachers and very effective ones.”

Teachers also tend to improve their effectiveness in the classroom with time, Lewthwaite added.

“Imagine a teacher that’s worked with northern students for five years,” he said. “The students haven’t changed in that time, it’s the teachers who have.

“If you’re going to teach in the North, you can’t teach the same way you did in the South.”

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