10.8 C
Niagara Falls
Friday, April 19, 2024
Royal Oak teachers pave positive futures for students
Early years teacher Krista McMackin blows her kids a great big kiss as they gather for a carpet time lesson. EVAN LOREE
Early years teacher Krista McMackin joins her students on the carpet. EVAN LOREE
Early years teacher Krista McMackin shows her strength to a small class of three to five year olds. EVAN LOREE
From left, Robin Forlin, Julia Murray and Krista McMackin are a small part of the woman-led team at Royal Oak Community School. EVAN LOREE
Royal Oak teacher Robin Forlin with six-year-old student Hannah Ridesic in art class. EVAN LOREE
Primary teacher Robin Forlin interacts with seven-year-old Elise Walton. EVAN LOREE
Primary teacher Robin Forlin encourages seven-year-old Evan Kibbee to take his first steps on an art assignment. EVAN LOREE

It’s carpet time.

Krista McMackin, a teacher for the past three years at Royal Oak Community School, is herding kids into a group for a math lesson after recess and morning snack.

As the small class of about 10 gathers round their teacher, sitting above them in her pink chair, McMackin blows the kids a great big kiss and stretches out her arms, inviting them to get closer.

There are a few giggles among the already rowdy roundup.

“I basically get to be a big kid,” McMackin, or Ms. Krista to her students, says while her class is out for recess.

“They keep me young. They keep me playing,” she adds.

For her, teaching is “just such a fun job.”

And head of school Julia Murray says she’s “always found a lot of joy” working with kids.

“Children and dogs are my jam,” Murray says as Duke, her big, curly-haired Bouvier poodle mix, circles her desk.

Robin Forlin, a 20-year veteran of Ontario’s classrooms, says she always wanted to be a teacher.

She recalls how her father set up a chalkboard and a few desks for her and her friends to play with in her basement when she was growing up.

And to hear her tell it, Forlin was always the teacher.

Data from Statistics Canada shows up to 75 per cent of all teachers in Canada are women. 

And at Royal Oak, 10 of the 11 teaching and support staff are women.

“I think gender roles probably have a little bit to do with why the profession is so female dominated,” Murray says.

“Women generally are quite nurturing and caring, and it’s certainly a trait that’s necessary for the profession,” she adds.

But McMackin says she tries not to steer her students into prototypically feminine or masculine professions.

“Just because you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean that you have to fit into those stereotypical female jobs of teaching or nursing,” she says.

Murray sees teaching as more about understanding individual kids than it about funnelling them into socially dictated roles. 

“We celebrate difference. We try to let children shine for whoever they are,” she says, noting she and her staff work hard to respect individuality, however it is expressed through gender. 

McMackin tries to use gender neutral language like “friends” instead of “boys and girls” when addressing her class. 

“You get kind of a mixed bag of needs in a class,” she says and meeting the needs of every single student is one of the most challenging parts of the job.

But for Forlin, seeing what she calls the “aha” moment in a child’s eyes, is well worth all the work and effort. 

“There will always be children who are going to struggle in different areas,” Forlin says.

“It’s hard for me to accept that because I want them to all be successful.”

She, too, tries to maintains a gender-neutral class, saying it’s easier to know the individual needs and identities of your students when the classes are small, like Royal Oak’s.

It’s much more difficult in public schools, when teachers are in charge of 25 to 30 students, she says. 

But with 58 students at Royal Oak, there’s almost one teacher for every six children.

Like Murray, Forlin wants the girls in her class to grow up independent. 

“I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet and not need a partner, even my own children,” says the mother of three young adults.

Forlin says one of her biggest inspirations was her Grade 3 teacher Anne Sicotte, whom she describes as “very stern.”

But Murray remembers Aimee Bruner, a camp counsellor she once had.

Bruner was the type of woman who would not stay quiet just because she was expected to.

“She was very kind, very confident, musical, supportive but very driven by her values.”

One of the lessons Murray took from Bruner was that women shouldn’t always be accommodating others.

“Pleasing other people should not be your primary goal,” she says.

“I think that the pleasing gene can be strong in the way that children are raised in our society,” Murray adds, but it is important to be truthful to yourself and stand up for what you believe.

“If you’re doing that, well, you’re ruffling some feathers along the way,” she says.

In McMackin’s class, sexism manifests itself mostly in stereotypes.

Sometimes her kids will comment that trucks and Lego are boy toys and pink is a girl’s colour.

McMackin says she’ll usually reinforce that kids can dress and play as they wish, while Murray just sees sexism as another “teachable moment.”

“If somebody does say something or acts in a sexist way, it’s addressed right away,” she adds.

Educators will then explain the impacts of such beliefs or actions and that “usually is the end of the story,” Murray says.

Far from just being disciplinarians, though, Murray says teachers have to wear “many different hats.”

“I’m a principal, but I’m also their coach. I also run the cross-country club.” 

It is so important for kids to see women in those roles, she says.

“Being a role model, a strong female role model, is really important. And the kids see that.”

Subscribe to our mailing list