• People

    Life of an elementary school teacher

Lina Vallières is an elementary French Immersion school teacher from Calgary, who, along with her colleagues, loves every aspect of teaching except for report card season.

Vallières has been a teacher for 12 years, and has been working for the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) at her current school, École Banff Trail, since 2006.

She co-teaches with Julie Johnston in a grade five and six class.

Mixed into the class are children with learning difficulties, part of Banff Trail’s Learning and Literacy program.

“As a child I wanted to be a teacher,” said Vallières. “When I was in high school, I was helping elementary students do their homework, and I liked helping them learn, so it just went from there.”

Vallières’ degree is in English as a Second Language (ESL). When she came to Calgary, Alberta, her French language experience landed her a position in a French Immersion program.

She came to Calgary because of the more interesting jobs offered, and the mountain range close by.

Vallières said that the hardest part about teaching is being hard on students. She said her worst experience was that she had to report a student that she caught passing drugs in a high school in Quebec where she once worked.

“After that he dropped out of school,” relates Vallières.

She said that it made her sad that it had to happen, because he was “such as smart boy”.

Being hard on her students is a reason she doesn’t like marking season.

“Report card season is stressful, and it’s hard on the kids too,” said Vallières. “That makes me feel bad, because I feel like I’m constantly evaluating them, and I’m sure they’re stressed too.”

Vallières’ colleagues also have a strong dislike for marking season.

“I find marking very stressful,” said Sara Reinikka-Scott, a grade four and five teacher.

“You don’t go into the profession because you want to hurt kids’ feelings,” she said. “You go into the profession because you like children and you want to make them happy.”

Vallières also said that marking was stressful because of the time it takes.

“I’m very passionate about teaching, and I’m very passionate about students, but I feel like the CBE is constantly adding accountability tasks, and more paperwork,” said Vallières. “That’s a lot of extra stress on the teacher, and extra tasks to do.”

“The time it requires is stressful, because you don’t have a lot of time to begin with,” explained Meghan Mckee, a grade six teacher, and colleague of Vallières.

Jeremy Jones, also a grade six teacher and colleague, has the same point of view when it comes to marking.

“There’s not really enough time,” said Jones.

He said that teachers have to use their full eight hour work day, several hours after school and evenings and weekends, in order to be able to complete marking on time.

Vallières said that parents could often be critical of marks given out as well.

“I think there’s always going to be people that appreciate us, and people who criticize us,” said Vallières. “There’s a difference between being a good advocate for your child, and being defensive.”

“I want the same thing you want for your child.”

Reinikka-Scott said she also finds the anticipation of parents’ reactions to their children’s marks stressful.

“You never know when you’re going to get blowback from parents,” said Reinikka-Scott.

“You have to be really passionate about what you’re doing to actually stay a teacher,” said Vallières.

Despite the stresses, Vallières said that the students are what make it worthwhile.

“When the ones that are struggling don’t get it, and then they finally get it, it’s like the most beautiful thing,” said Vallières. “It’s magical.”

She recalls her best teaching experience when she took a group of students to study a math concept, and after trying all different types of techniques and hammering down the concept, the students finally understood.

“Finally they got it,” said Vallières. “At that moment, it was the greatest thing ever.”

“It’d be way easier to do some other job, where you’re not worried about your students when you go home.”

Vallières said that it was important to her to always come up with new ways of teaching, and that the method of teaching has changed over the years.

“Now we’re making them discover more by themselves, rather than us instructing them on how it should be done,” said Vallières.

Mckee said that coming up with ideas for teaching, and sharing them, is one of Vallières’ strengths.

“She is constantly changing her practice to reflect the needs of her kids,” said Reinikka-Scott.

“She’s a hard worker.”

Vallières’ colleagues also all believe that she is highly organized and can get things done for the team, and even she agrees.

Vallières put it this way: “I think I bring order to the school, and a bit of experience too.