New study highlights experiences of Aboriginal teachers -- “Racism in education typically denied, ignored and trivialized”

March 10, 2010
OTTAWA - A major study of the professional knowledge and experience of Aboriginal teachers in Canadian public schools was released today at a special Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) event on Aboriginal education. The study was commissioned by the CTF and its Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Education, and funded by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL).

“The rationale for the study was to address the urgent need to improve and promote Aboriginal education in public schools,” says author Verna St. Denis, PhD, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education. “It asks the question: What can we learn from the professional knowledge and experiences of Aboriginal teachers who teach in public schools about how to better promote and support the success of Aboriginal students?”
 
The study interviewed 59 Aboriginal teachers (49 female and 10 male) teaching in public schools across Canada. More than one third had 20 or more years of teaching experience, and half were graduates of Aboriginal programs, including Aboriginal teacher education programs.
 
“The continuing goal of the study is to promote ongoing dialogue and learning about Aboriginal education within teacher organizations and the broader educational community,” explains CTF President Mary-Lou Donnelly. “Study participants identified several ways to support the integration of Aboriginal curriculum in the school system, including the acquisition of Aboriginal curriculum and materials, adequate support for the teaching of Aboriginal content and perspectives, supportive and understanding school administrators, the acceptance of Aboriginal teachers as fellow professionals, and the hiring of more Aboriginal teachers and professionals.
 
“Overwhelmingly, the Aboriginal teachers who participated in this study valued the opportunity to be heard, to hear each other and to be a part of an effort that hopes to promote change.”
 
Data collection focused on four areas, including the philosophy of teaching, integrating Aboriginal content and perspectives into the curriculum, racism in education, and allies of Aboriginal education.
 
“By conducting in-depth discussions with Aboriginal teachers across Canada, this study offers valuable insight and perspective into the experiences of all Aboriginal people in our public school systems,” says Dr. Paul Cappon, CCL President and CEO.
 
“I have no doubt that this study will serve as an important addition to the growing body of research that explores the ways that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people approach the learning process.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • The ethical and moral dimensions of teaching motivated Aboriginal teachers to become teachers and to remain in the teaching profession;
  • The Aboriginal teachers in this study remained in the profession because they valued the opportunity to teach Aboriginal culture and history, to foster responsible citizens, to challenge negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people, to serve as role models, and because they believed they could have a positive impact on children;
  • Feeling that racism in education was typically denied, ignored and trivialized, the Aboriginal teachers in this study described various ways in which they experienced racism.  They reported on some occasions a disregard for their qualifications and capabilities, and for Aboriginal content and perspectives; a lowering of expectations of Aboriginal students; and a discounting of the effects of colonization and oppression on Aboriginal people.  Institutional responses to racism were often seen as inadequate, leaving the burden for addressing racism on Aboriginal teachers;
  • Participants highly valued those non-Aboriginal colleagues who accepted them as equal, helping them to succeed and offering validation for the work and perspective they as Aboriginal teachers brought to the profession;
  • Although these Aboriginal teachers encountered a variety of adverse circumstances—such as a lack of Aboriginal curriculum materials, misunderstandings of Aboriginal education by their colleagues, challenging social and political conditions in the schools and the communities, or the effects of poverty on students—they remained committed to making a difference in education.

Founded in 1920, CTF is a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent nearly 200,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada. CTF is also a member of the international body of teachers, Education International.

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Comments: Verna St. Denis, PhD, author of the study
 Mary-Lou Donnelly, CTF President, 613-232-1505

 Jarrett Laughlin, CCL, 613-371-3238 (cell)
Media Contact: Francine Filion, CTF Director of Communications, 613-688-4314 or 613-899-4247 (cell)