Each week I share an educator's journey into education. Since I started this project, I have fallen more in love with what I do every day in the classroom. It's refreshing to hear how others in the field, found their way into education and feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings. It's inspired me to dig deeper. I absolutely loved reading Amanda's responses. I really felt like I was sitting down with her at a café and seeing/hearing for myself, how proud she is to be inspiring minds daily. I have no doubt that you will be able to take away several lessons from Amanda and if you did, connect with her to let her know!
Name: Amanda Tétrault
Who are you? How long have you been working in the education field? What school district are you in?
I am a mom, an educator, a coach and enjoy exercise. I have been teaching since 1998, so a career that spans 2 centuries;) I am in the largest school division in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg 1 School Division. Unlike other jurisdictions, we have something like 28 school divisions in Manitoba, and 6 divisions in Winnipeg alone.
What subject/ grade do you teach?
I am the only SERT (special education resource teacher) in a grade 7/8 school of a population of about 500 students. It is a dual track school, French Immersion and English tracts. I also coach 3 school water polo teams.
Who was your favourite teacher when you were a student? What made them stand out from the rest?
I would say it was Mr. Williscroft – my grade 10 and 11 English teacher. I liked his sense of humour and I was very successful in his class. It seems the better I did in a class, the more I liked that teacher.
What was learning like growing up for you? Easy, challenging?
As an adult I was diagnosed with ADHD, so even though I think I was fairly bright, my lack of focus may have impacted my ability to succeed. I only found what I would consider pretty good success while working on my 3rd degree in university – by then I had figured out how to self-regulate better and what I needed to do to maintain focus. Any maybe I just matured a bit by then too!
Who or what inspired you to become an educator?
Interestingly enough, when I did that old career aptitude test on a huge computer in grade 10 or 11 and the results were printed off on a dot matrix printer, it came up as either a “teacher of exceptional students” or working with “geriatrics”. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and went as far as to apply to the city police and RCMP, but then ended up volunteering in an inner city grade 1 classroom with an amazing teacher for 2 days a week over an entire school year, and I was hooked.
Describe what your dream classroom would look like.
It’s hard to describe because I don’t think it exists anywhere. I understand with our current curricula it is near impossible to allow for my vision, a place with many unique qualities. It would first be very placed-based learning with opportunities to be outside and more connected to nature. It would also focus on industrial arts and home economics classes where students would learn some basic skills such as cooking healthy, fixing things that may break in their own homes and building and designing aesthetically pleasing things as well as for practical purposes. Finally, the topics would be fully integrated throughout the curricula as to see that the subjects are not just stand-alone silos. Hands-on opportunities are key for students who are kinaesthetic learners. When I was in high school I really wanted to take an automotive class but it was only offered as a program, and everyone knew that “those guys in auto” were not able to cut in in a regular program and since I was headed to university, I wasn’t provided an opportunity to learn what was interesting to me at the time.
Tell us about a challenging moment you’ve faced in the classroom. How did you deal with it?
There have been many challenging moments, but I think generally a thing that stood out to me was a group I taught science to a few years ago. They were extremely disruptive and it was frustrating as a teacher to get a through a lesson. Even though I was very experienced, I myself had to go back to the drawing board and revamp my classroom managements strategies to ensure the learning of all students in my class. It was important to realize that we need to reinvent our style depending on the group of students in front of us as it doesn’t always work for all, all of the time.
What gets you pumped up before entering the classroom? (ex. music, car dance party, coffee?)
It seems kind of silly but I don’t need to get pumped up before heading to work. I love my job and as much as I love a good car dance party, I just come to school looking forward to the day!
What makes you a great educator? (Come on, toot your horn!)
That’s a hard question. I would say that because I love my job, it shows through. I care about the students and they know that. When I was in the classroom I tried to make my lessons engaging and my assessments varied. I would allow for choice and would also promote using a variety of intelligences to demonstrate understanding. I really tried to focus on student-first instruction to keep them engaged in the lessons.
If your students could describe you, what would they say?
This was easy – I just went and asked them! Here are a few points that came from some of the students I work with on a regular basis:
E (autism) – listens well, can calm kids down easily, very good coach, very nice but scary sometimes (at practice when kids are fooling around)
Z (behaviour) – funny, tough
R (FASD) – nice, beautiful (awe), athletic
D (behaviour) friendly, very caring, forgiving
L (autism) – nice, helpful
*I especially loved how Amanda asked her students!*
What was your best teaching moment?
Hard to narrow down to just one. I think that overall, when I have students coming back to visit me that I worked with, either from high school or beyond, to tell me that I made a difference in their life, that is so powerful. You don’t always see the seed you have planted at such an influential time, but if they come back to share their feelings (and often successes), that makes my heart sing.
What do you do to enhance your personal learning?
I read, but not all the time. Sometimes I throw in a pleasure book to break up the “learning”. I do use social media to read about ideas and activities such as different Facebook groups or following someone like-minded on Twitter (like Jam!)
How do you balance your personal life from your teaching life?
I try to make time for me. Both my husband and I value exercise so we take turns getting out to help us keep balance. I go to the gym about 2 times a week in the morning and yoga on Friday nights (my big night out!). He goes and plays squash with his friends a couple of times a week and volleyball once a week, depending on his shift work that week. If it isn’t planned, it is very hard to maintain.
Do you do enough to maintain your personal wellbeing?
I am very lucky to have time to “take care of me”, so I can’t complain. I try to kill 2 birds with one stone by exercising during my wellbeing time as opposed to going out for drinks or other things like that (although that happens on occasion).
Have you ever experienced burnout? What/who helped you cope?
I haven’t burned out but I have been down. I think having good friends who are both educators and non-educators to talk to and get fresh ideas and perspectives is important. A support network in the school is also key and of course, supportive administrators are helpful.
What do you love most about teaching?
I always say that working in a middle school or junior high is never boring. We never know what might happen that day, and the kids really keep things fresh. And every once and a while you see such an amazing thing out of these hormone-filled creatures that brings you to tears (happy tears!).
If you could talk to your younger self (ex. elementary student, high school student, post-secondary) what would you say?
A little bit of work actually goes a long way and organization is key!
There may be teachers reading this who are in need of a reminder why they’re great educators. What would you say to help lift their spirits?
If you truly care about your students it will shine through all of the “other stuff”. Often it is less about what you are teaching and more about who you are teaching.
Jam Gamble - Connector of People, Ideas and Energy