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An interview with an early career teacher: Melissa Dedam, Harcourt Elementary School

| Indigenous Education

What has your career path been to date?

It has been a wonderful educational journey. In December 2010, I completed my Bachelor of Education degree at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). I was also enrolled in the First Nations Teacher Education Program at UNB. I graduated with distinction on May 18, 2011 and received my Provincial Teaching Certification in March of 2011. Following that, I enrolled and completed the Advanced Certificate in Literacy Education at Crandall University, graduating in November 2013. Additionally, I have pursued a Master’s in 21st Century Teaching and Learning Education at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) which I finished in August 2015. Now, I am working on upgrading the Advanced Literacy Certificate into a Master’s degree. I have one course left to finish that program. Education is important to me.

I want to dispel the negative stereotypes by educating others that “we” First Nations people can accomplish anything we dream of and have a lot to offer to this world.

In addition to having several years of teaching experience in the K-12 grade levels, I was in a leadership role for the district: coaching, modeling, and co-teaching with many teachers as a literacy support teacher. Since my time as a literacy support teacher, I have been a classroom teacher in a grade 3/4 split class and last year, became a Language Arts middle school teacher in Elsipogtog. This year, my responsibilities include being a .2 resource teacher (20% of teaching assignment is as a resource teacher), K-5 Art teacher and teacher of a grade 2/3 split level class. I guess I am a jack-of-all-trades! It’s one of the benefits of being a D-Contract teacher (term contracts for teachers in New Brunswick)!

My passion for learning and dedication to my students stems from my maternal instincts. I am a mother of four boys and one girl whose ages range from 4 to 17. They are my number one encouragement. Some people think and say, “How does she do it?” as they refer to my experience as a mother, full-time teacher and student. All I can say is, “I have a dream! I am committed to my endeavours and I have the dedication to complete everything I start.”

As a First Nations individual and mother of five children, I think image has been a big factor in my life. I want to dispel the negative stereotypes by educating others that “we” First Nations people can accomplish anything we dream of and have a lot to offer to this world. Furthermore, my dream is to integrate my beautiful First Nations teachings and culture into the public education system.

Describe a typical day in your
professional life.

Structure, scheduling and prioritizing get me through the day. After I fulfill my motherly duties, I leave the house around 7:30 am and arrive at work usually around 7:50 am. The first thing I do is turn on my computer and open Smart Notebook which takes forever to load!

When students arrive between 8:20-8:30 am, I greet them and send them off to have breakfast, reminding them to bring their lunch to the cafeteria. If I’m not on duty while students are eating breakfast, I usually do last-minute prepping and photocopying. After breakfast, I either co‑teach Language Arts with a colleague or perform my resource teaching duties. After kids return from recess, I teach 2/3 Math and Word Work and in the afternoon, depending on the day, my responsibilities consist of either You and Your World (for my 2s) Science, Social Studies, Life Math or K-5 Art.

After kids leave at the end of the school day at 2:30 pm, I start cleaning up the classroom, then collaborate with a colleague about Language Arts. After that, I begin my planning for the next day.

During my spare time after school, I usually scour Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers to find innovative ideas to engage my students. The life of a teacher never ends when students leave at the end of the day.

How/when did you decide to become a teacher?

Melissa Duram - Graduation picture

At a very young age, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Playing “school” with my younger siblings in our old fort is what planted the “seed.” However, life throws you a curve ball every once in a while. Your future doesn’t always happen the way you plan it out.

I found myself in high school and not feeling as enthused as when I was younger. I was parentless, pregnant with no hope for the future. People judged me; they gossiped and whispered behind my back. I even had a person tell me, “You’re not going to be anything but a young dumb Indian girl living off welfare with a bunch of kids.” As hurtful as that was, I had to admit the odds were against me. I was living on my own with no parental support and no income except for an $80 welfare cheque from the band office. Last, but not least, I had no vision for the future. I didn’t know what to do. I had forgotten the little girl playing school in the old fort. She was lost. I was lost.

Although I felt helpless and defeated, I loved my unborn baby with every breath I took. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I promised my unborn child I would do what it took, no matter what, to give him/her a great life. I promised I would do great things to become someone important so that he/she would be proud of me.

At the time, I knew I had to finish high school. It was challenging but thanks to the support of kind and loving teachers who took the time to get to know me and to go out of their way to encourage me to keep going, I did it! I knew education was important and just needed someone to believe in me. I did graduate, but I didn’t attend university right away.

After some time, I finally found the little girl in the fort who was deep in my heart. When my first-born was a preschooler, we played school every day, just like I did when I was a little girl. I was the teacher and he was my student. My living room walls were filled with charts of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, etc. Before he started kindergarten, I had taught him how to read and write, and he even knew basic math. We read books together every day and did all sorts of activities.

Each time he had a “light bulb” moment, he would smile from ear to ear. His eyes would light up because he felt so proud of his accomplishments. He was four years old at the time and those moments were so precious that they melted my heart every time. That is when I knew I wanted to teach, for real. It was no longer a game we played.

Witnessing that smile of success and accomplishment in a child! That is the best part about being a teacher!

I wanted to share the same precious moments with other children. I wanted to empower other children so they could gain the same sense of confidence my son was experiencing. I was meant to become a teacher because I was already a “teacher at heart”.

Well, it has been 17 years since I made that promise to my unborn baby. I finished one master’s degree at UPEI and I am working on the last course for my second master’s degree at Crandall University. I managed to do all this while raising five children and teaching full-time. Who would have thought a promise made so long ago would lead me to the life I have now?

What are your greatest sources of satisfaction as a teacher?

Witnessing that smile of success and accomplishment in a child! That is the best part about being a teacher!

What are your greatest challenges?

I find it challenging to separate my work and home life. I also find it challenging to juggle my time. There seems to never be enough time in the day. Why do we have to sleep??? Last, but not least, my biggest challenge is constantly battling self-doubt… that feeling of uncertainly whether I have successfully met all the needs of my students or not.

What are your thoughts on the teaching profession?

I love teaching. Even though we face a lot of uncertainties and barriers that come with being a teacher, teaching is one of the best jobs out there—second to being a mother. There is nothing more rewarding and I wouldn’t change my path for anything.

This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of NBTA News magazine (PDF – 5.15 MB).

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