Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 9, 2001
Teachers who make a difference
Excellent teachers believe in students ability to learn
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Could Darlene Johnson and Linda Melnyk be twins?
They aren't but they do have the same passion for education, which merited them the prestigious Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence.
Johnson is a Grade 1 teacher at Bertha Kennedy Catholic Community School in St. Albert, and Linda Melnyk is a resource facilitator at Bishop Savaryn Catholic Elementary School in Edmonton.
Both are U of A graduates and both have been teaching for six years at their respective schools. Melnyk has been a teacher for 31 years while Johnson has been in the profession for 21 years.
Because of the time that they spend preparing lessons and teaching aids, both said their own children do not want to become teachers. Teaching is not a go-home-at-3:30 kind of job, they said.
The two are the only teachers in Alberta Catholic schools to receive the Prime Minister's Award this year. The WCR was able to have a chat with these two gifted teachers, who are considered gems in their respective divisions.
VIRTUAL REALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
What virtue did you practise today?
Linda Melnyk always has something running. When the WCR visited her, she was in the middle of updating Bishop Savaryn's website that would feature stories, pictures and drawings of students on the virtues they learned and practised.
After receiving the PM Award, she still couldn't believe that she was rated as one of the best teachers in Canada. "It still blows my mind because there are lots of wonderful teachers and I work with a lot of (them)," she told the WCR.
This 51-year-old teacher believes education, exercise and community service are all part of being a healthy lifelong learner.
"Live the virtues we teach and create opportunities for community service and social justice projects," Melnyk believes.
She spearheaded the virtue project for Bishop Savaryn. Students and teachers were encouraged to learn, reflect and practise different Christian virtues every month.
Students were asked to write and draw about the virtue that they practised and a collection of their work was posted on the school's website.
Not only does she promote virtue, but Melnyk also promotes programs like:
"I want (all my students) to be successful. I want them all to love learning," said Melnyk, whose expertise is turning non-reading students into readers.
"I try very hard not just to make them readers but to make them love reading," she said.
She works with a wide array of students: from Grade 1 to 6; from children with difficulty and slow learners to children with special gifts.
Believing that learning goes beyond the classroom, Melnyk developed a gifted and enrichment program for students. She created multi-grade teams to work on projects; established a mentorship system between upper and lower grades; planned field trips to local businesses, and encouraged participation in science and heritage fairs.
Willing to go the extra mile to facilitate learning, Melnyk will take a diploma course on education and technology at the U of A.
"Can you believe at my age I'm going back (to U of A)?" she laughed. "(My students) are miles ahead of me, so I have to keep up with them," she added.
"I just want to make a difference," she said. "For example, in my reading class, if I can't help them, I'm going to find somebody to help them," she explained.
"It's not because there is something wrong with a student, if one is having trouble in learning to read," Melnyk said. "I'd say to (a student) I haven't found a way to teach you yet, and I will find the way. If not I'll find someone who can."
OF GOODBYE SUPPER, PENGUINS AND OTHER TALES
The Grade 1 students congregated around Darlene Johnson as soon as they saw a stranger with a camera come to the room. Some of them started jumping, looking at the man with the camera while moving towards where their teacher was seated.
Everybody wanted to be in the picture. At the same time they all wanted to see the pictures in the storybook that Johnson was using.
"I really love Grade 1," said Johnson, a 45-year-old mother of three girls. "I really like the way the kids come in, ready and excited to learn."
Johnson sees her job as providing stimulus for her students and they match that undying enthusiasm. "The kids motivate me," she said.
Religion is her class' favourite subject. "They love the Bible stories," she said. "We had such a good time reading stories about parables, and they remember the characters in the stories." She always makes it a point that her students remember at least five things about every subject matter.
"When we talked about the Last Supper, which of course is Goodbye Supper for them, they were all sad, and they talked about it at home," said Johnson, a member of Holy Family Parish, St. Albert.
Johnson has a soft spot for children with special needs. "My heart goes out to kids with learning disabilities and I guess that's what brings out the teacher in me."
In preparing her lessons, her guiding principle is: "What can my lessons do to incorporate (special) kids." She believes that learning comes easy for others once the needs of special children are considered and incorporated.
In one of her subjects, Johnson was teaching about penguins. When she asked her class what they wanted to know about penguins, they said they wanted to know about killer whales.
Johnson had to change her teaching materials and do more research to relate to what the students are interested in. The class even made dioramas depicting penguins and killer whales.
"Oh you missed our pi¤ata," said Johnson, who regularly incorporates crafts in her lessons. The class did a lesson on Mexico, which culminated in a Mexican party complete with, tacos and pi¤ata. They also dressed dolls as Mexicans.
The energy of the students is at its peak when they are in Grade 1 but diminishes on their way up to Grade 6, said Johnson, whose excellence in teaching numbers was tapped to develop department of education mathematics curriculum.
Although she loves teaching Grade 1, she would not mind going back to teaching sixth graders. But finding out how to make the curriculum more interesting would be her first move if asked to handle a higher class.
"I believe that Grade 6 students would want more input to the subject matter," said Johnson.
"If they have more input, maybe they would feel more responsible for it," said Johnson, who came from a family of eight children, three of whom are also teachers.
Comments like "My son started out Grade 1 as a non-reader, and ended at level 4.6," have become common.
"The short amount of time I spent with Grade Ones, you could see improvements. It was plain to see that her students would be very well prepared for Grade 2," said Marnee Kelly, one of the many student teachers who trained with Johnson.
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