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Five teachers vie for provincial honour

Award recognizes innovative instructors

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Saturday, Apr 12, 2014 06:00 am

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Five St. Albert teachers have reached the semi-finals in the province’s annual Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Alberta Education released its list of semi-finalists for the 2014 Excellence in Teaching Awards last March 28. Five of the 130-some educators on it teach in St. Albert.

This annual award recognizes teachers who excel at fostering student growth and demonstrate innovative or creative ways of supporting student learning, said Alberta Education spokesperson Erin Larson.

A provincial panel picked these semi-finalists from amongst hundreds of entries, she continued. This May, the panel will whittle them down to 20 winners. Winners and semi-finalists qualify for up to $4,000 in professional development funds.

All five of the St. Albert semi-finalists come from the St. Albert Public school district.

These are top-notch teachers that see teaching as a calling, said superintendent Barry Wowk.

“It’s a big deal even to get nominated,” he said, noting that the board put forth 11 nominees. “To get five semi-finalists is just phenomenal, so we’re extremely proud of them all.”

The semi-finalists

The five semi-finalists are Michael Ng and Paul Shamchuk of Paul Kane, Monique Waters of Muriel Martin, Jason Dabbagh of Bellerose Composite and Sally Rudakoff of Lorne Akins.

Ng is a chemistry teacher known for his spectacular science demonstrations, which often involve smoke, flames, rockets, explosions and (occasionally) Batman.

Ng has been asked to perform science demos at numerous teacher conventions. He works with other teachers to help them set up demonstrations, and is an active promoter of the Edmonton Science Olympics.

“There are always students in science who always want to blow something up,” Ng said. Hands-on demos like the ones he does give them that chance to perform in front of an audience.

Ng said students might not remember stoichiometry or math concepts when they graduate, but they will remember what you do in front of them.

“I want them to remember these unforgettable learning experiences and bring it back to their dinner table, because if they bring it back to their dinner table, you win as a teacher.”

Shamchuk said he doesn’t use explosions as much as Ng when he teachers English. “I’m pretty straightforward. I just get kids to talk about books.”

His approach is vaguely Socratic – he throws out the occasional question, but lets his students lead the discussion.

“I never know what they’re going to say,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it.” Many times, students can reveal profound insights about literature that can surprise even the most jaded Shakespeare fan.

“When you hit kids with deep ideas, they take it and they want to go there,” he said. “They want to find out who they are and what their place in the world is, and helping them do that is infinitely rich territory.”

Waters is the French-immersion co-ordinator at Muriel Martin and is known for her use of technology in the classroom. In 2012, she put her school on the map by having her class take part in the national Energy Diet Challenge for Earth Day. (They placed sixth nationally.)

“I believe a lot in experiential education,” Waters said. “Children learn best when they’re learning something that’s real.”

This fall she hopes to run a “nature school” for about 50 students at her family’s acreage that will give students hands-on experience growing vegetables and building carts on a farm – all of which will be used to teach lessons on math, science and the environment.

Effective teachers should work the subjects they are passionate about into their classes to engage their students, Waters said. “The excitement is contagious,” and the students will get pumped up along with you.

Dabbagh is the foods instructor at Bellerose and founder of the Bellerose Business Venture – a for-profit food company run in the school by students.

The food business lets you step a bit outside of the classroom and get some more casual, meaningful relationships going with students, Dabbagh said. “That’s the part of my job that I love.”

Meaningful relationships are paramount for success in the classroom, he said. “If the kids know you care about them, they will go the extra mile for you.”

Rudakoff is known for her skill in using iPads and computers when teaching, and has hosted many seminars on technology use in the classroom.

The iPads help students come out of their shell a bit more and get creative with class presentations, Rudakoff said. “They’re excited about learning.”

Alberta Education will announce the finalists this May. See www.education.alberta.ca/teachers/excellence for details.


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