Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 13, 2009
Teacher leaves with a heart full of kids
Thirty-nine years of teaching prompts a teacher to call for more respect from parents
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Teachers do not get the respect they deserve, says Mary Dunnigan, a long-time teacher with Edmonton Catholic Schools.
"Parents entrust us, especially in the Catholic schools. They entrust us with their kids, and we play such a pivotal role because we see these kids for hours every day.
"From most parents you get utmost respect," she said.
However, some parents are so busy with their jobs and volunteering or have other challenges in their own lives that their children's education is an afterthought.
"I've had parents, when I phone home because I haven't seen a student for a few days, and they say, 'When the kid is at school you take care of him and when he's at home I'll take care of him. It's none of your business.'"
For the first time in four decades, teaching is no longer Dunnigan's business. Beginning her career in 1968 teaching Grade 2, she later taught junior high and most recently senior high. In total, she worked 39 years with Edmonton Catholic.
"I couldn't work in a job where I didn't work with people. Education is nothing without people," she said.
On June 30 she left work at Austin O'Brien High School for the last time. Now all that's left are the wonderful memories.
"When I started teaching Grade 2, I couldn't remember some of the things that had happened, so I started writing them down. If I ever had a really bad day all I had to do was read through them," she said.
For instance, one day she asked a student, "Why were you late coming in from recess?" and he replied matter-of-factly, "Well, I had to see who won the marble game."
Teaching at a Catholic school has been a rewarding experience.
"I'm constantly amazed that there is something so special about Catholic schools. That doesn't mean public schoolteachers aren't good teachers.
"It's just a lot easier for a Catholic teacher when Christmas comes. I can talk about Christmas, whereas at a public school I can't," said Dunnigan.
She took two years off to teach in New Zealand and Germany.
Dunnigan also taught at the University of Alberta as a practicum associate, a position she will return to for the winter term.
The 2008-09 school year was spent teaching English in the morning at Austin O'Brien.
Her other role was as district representative on the provincial executive council of the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).
While she has witnessed many changes in the classroom over the years - from encyclopaedias to mobile computer labs, from chalkboards to Smart boards - some things never change.
"Kids are still kids. You still want what's best for them. You want them to grow as much as they can grow. But their lives have become much more complex. There's a lot more single-parent families now, and growing up in a single-parent family has to rub off on a kid."
Today's classrooms are immersed more and more in technology.
"In the teaching world, we have Smart Boards in our classrooms now, but I don't think that makes us smarter teachers," said Dunnigan.
"You have to keep up with technology. My students want to email their reports. Their class presentations are in advance of what I can do.
"Kids are at the core (of teaching), and want to be loved, they want to be challenged and they want to learn."
Over the years Dunnigan has chaired many committees, including Accountability and Education and Teacher Education and Certification.
The work done by these committees help determine the future of education in Alberta.
"As a teacher I am really privileged to see kids learn all sorts of things," she said, noting that the school system ought to recognize the student who excels at skills such as art or music.
"All of those things count towards their marks in the classroom - and they should."
EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING AWARD
Another major career highlight was receiving the provincial excellence in teaching award.
"That was pretty special because it was a combination of students, parents and staff. A teacher never does anything on his or her own. It was the recognition of the whole community," said Dunnigan.
Her retirement plans include travel, sewing and teaching overseas, perhaps in New Zealand again or in China. She will spend retirement with her husband, who she met when they were in Grade 1 at Sacred Heart School.