Still My Teacher

We may not all be able to remember our Grade 2 or 3 teachers, but I remember mine. Her name was Mrs. Walker. Her first name was in fact Mrs. Even later, when it was revealed to me that she had another first name, she was always my teacher, and therefore her first name was always Mrs. This is not to undermine her independence or her identity but rather to honour her as my teacher – which she was when I first met her and continues to be today. 

I was fairly new to schooling when I met Mrs. Walker. It was only my third year, so I did not know how truly remarkable she was. I thought that all teachers spent what I now realize must have been countless hours collecting and painting boxes to create ponds for the glued and painted rocks which were transformed into frogs and toads so that I could learn addition and subtraction. At the time, I hated math, but I did not hate carefully choosing which box, filled with handmade creations, I would use to follow along with the stories that inevitably led to learning addition and subtraction. 

Though it may seem that my love of reading and writing is something that emerged naturally, I know these passions were first nurtured in Mrs. Walker’s classroom. There, I was a singer when I composed a song and played it for the school on my ukulele, I was an author when I wrote stories daily in the small books she made out of bundles of white pages sandwiched between vibrantly coloured covers of construction paper, and I was truly seen when gave me holiday gifts of carefully selected books that interested me.

As an Indigenous student, school can be a very difficult place. But I did not learn that lesson until I left Mrs. Walker’s classroom. 

In grade 8, I won a math award, and Mrs. Walker was there to see me receive it. It had been five years since I had left her classroom, but she was still my teacher. Following the award ceremony, we went out for a celebratory meal. I do not remember what we ate, but I remember the feeling that I had truly accomplished something great, and I know that is because Mrs. Walker’s pride in my achievement was genuine.

Even more years passed, and I moved to Whitehorse. During a particularly cold and dark winter, I received a package from Mrs. Walker filled with colourful drawings and photographs of my much younger self. The drawings were filled with such hope that somehow they managed to warm me and remind me it was possible to be optimistic and believe in the future. You see, even from afar, she was still my teacher. 

One of the last times that I saw Mrs. Walker was when I defended my doctoral dissertation. Though many would agree, this was an important event, I was incredibly honoured that Mrs. Walker was there. Following my defense, she joined my family and me for a celebratory dinner. She regaled us with stories that made us laugh. She showed us by example, that even as our age advances and many of the people we love are no longer with us, we can continue to find joy in our lives. We can continue to live. 

Mrs. Walker always saw the best in me. She believed in me, and she demonstrated this by showing up to support me whenever she was invited, regardless of how many years had passed. 

It has always been my goal to be able to be the person that Mrs. Walker saw in me. 

Today, I teach future teachers. As an educator, Mrs. Walker has continued to be an inspiration to me as I work to create learning spaces that are as safe and exciting as the one that she created for me. And it is my hope that the educators who leave my classroom create their own classrooms where all children know they are important and feel like they belong. This is Mrs. Walker’s legacy, even for those she has never met.

I wish you a light heart on your new journey, Mrs. Walker. 

Haw’aa for always being my teacher.