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Mr. Menard: “I Walk Taller, Think Deeper Because of SUNTEP”

By James Oloo

Mar 5, 2019

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We recently caught up with Dylan Menard, a 2018 Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP Saskatoon) graduate and current teacher in London, England, to discuss his journey from a North Saskatchewan farm life to classrooms in one of the largest and most diverse cities in Europe. Dylan accepted the teaching position in London and traveled to England soon after his graduation.

Dylan works as a supply (substitute) teacher and has taught in 28 schools across London. “My job is comparable to teaching back home in Saskatchewan,” he said, adding that the work is “multifaceted, challenging, and exciting because I am learning from and teaching to so many different groups of people in a foreign country with an entirely new curriculum.”

So, how is schooling/teaching in England different from schooling in Saskatchewan? Dylan noted that the school systems in Saskatchewan allow a lot more individual teacher autonomy. Saskatchewan teachers in their own classrooms create their desired schedules and the content for each of the classes they teach. They choose how each unit takes shape and what elements they wish to be inspired from. “This is both a freedom and a challenge. There’s often only a few teachers in similar grades that are able to assist the Saskatchewan teacher,” he said. Much of this work is on the shoulders of the individual Saskatchewan teacher to set up every single moment for their school year. “Personally, I love being able to choose what angle I will pursue each lesson. This often can result in more passion-driven lessons which the teacher could proudly teach with excitement.”

England takes a different approach to curriculum planning. As Dylan describes it, primary schools are usually three-form schools. That is, there are three year (grade) one classes, three year two classes, three year three classes, and so on, in one school. Because of this, you have two other teachers supporting you. How these teachers support one another is by collaborating to create the content that will be taught over the school year. This support is largely appreciated by the teachers. Much of the individual pressures many Saskatchewan teachers experience is eliminated, because you have two other people in the same building teaching the same grade. A huge benefit of this is a balance of the lesson planning between the three teachers. One teacher will take charge of planning an entire year’s worth of math and art content, another teacher plans the year’s Science and Health/PSHE, and the final teacher will plan the English and [Social Studies].

This teamwork is a powerful system. Teachers agree at the beginning of the year which classes they will plan. They then create detailed lessons and worksheets, and are able to log into a shared [online] computer network to share lessons and access their colleagues’ work which they will review and teach. Weekly meetings are set up to deliberate the content they have created for that week.

According to Dylan, this system of planning is effective as students are being taught lessons that have been created by an ‘expert’ of the year group teachers. “When the focus for teachers is on two or three subjects, they have a better chance to focus to create quality lessons and perhaps avoid wearing teachers too thin. As a beginner teacher and community minded person, I find this highly appealing.” Is this method of planning perfect? Perhaps not – many of these teachers may rely too heavily on their skill set and may get ‘rusty’ in planning other subjects.

Dylan suggests that this is why every year teachers in their year groups change the subject they plan for that year. He admits that because there isn’t the same level of population to have schools set up with three teachers teaching the same grade in each school, “I’m not even certain how this would work in Saskatchewan.”

He commended the education system in England for scheduling time to “learn about ‘bigger picture’ ideas.” British schools have assemblies a few times a week during which students learn various topics including water quality, fair-trade foods, bullying, importance of languages, endangered animals, mental health, feminism, and LGBT. “London schools endeavour to not only educate children on the fundamentals in each subject area, but to also prepare them for the realities they will live in when we leave school at the end of the day. This is something Saskatchewan should consider.”

Asked about how well SUNTEP prepared him for his current teaching position, Dylan described SUNTEP as “a host of positive experiences” and asserted that “I wouldn’t be nearly as confident walking into 27 different schools in London without the level of education and support I was offered at SUNTEP. SUNTEP didn’t just teach to my academic side, they also enlightened my whole being. SUNTEP helped me fall in love with my culture, career, and myself.” He continued, “I walk a little taller, speak a little louder, think deeper, and give more generously because of SUNTEP. Without SUNTEP, I would not have the amazing life that I do now.”

Dylan credits the program for learning to become selfless for the betterment of his students and spreading messages of self-acceptance. SUNTEP also enabled him to develop a good work ethic: “My dinner does not taste as good until I have my work completed.”

Dylan described how he was able to find ways to succeed at the bachelor of education program despite the challenges he was facing. “For three years of my university journey, I did not have Wi-Fi or internet connection on my farm. I did what I had to do for a chance at graduating.”

Dylan also spoke about how SUNTEP changed the way he views race relations. “SUNTEP helped me understand what white privilege is. As a Métis person with white privilege, I need to work harder than my coloured family members and larger Indigenous family to promote an advocate lifestyle.” He emphasized that “It is sad to say that our current society hears ‘white voices’ more clearly. Not often enough are those voices speaking against the injustices faced by oppressed and marginalized peoples. It will be my dying wish to use the platform of teaching to speak of the importance of tolerance and peace between all groups of people.”

Dylan has always known about SUNTEP since childhood. His Dad graduated from SUNTEP in 2008; and his aunt, Andrea Menard, was also a SUNTEP student. “Both speak fondly about their time at SUNTEP as they have grown in positive ways because of it,” He noted.

Choosing SUNTEP was an easy decision for Dylan: “I asked myself three important questions: What do you love doing? (Being creative); What type of person are you? (A kid at heart); and What career will bring those two things together? (Teaching)!

Dylan talked about what it means to him to be a teacher noting that the role of a teacher is not limited to ‘teaching.’ “I am not just a person at the front of young people, regurgitating the facts and statistics. I am a coach, a mentor, and a role model. I pride myself on being a young teacher and a Métis man who is part of the LGBT community. The professional and personal growth I have been able to more easily explore is the notion that you can display your ‘flaws’ positively to show others that they can love theirs too. And as a teacher, I believe this is an important message of self-acceptance that young people need more than ever.”

Asked if there are people in his life who have inspired him, Dylan mentioned his mother, Karen, and his best friend, Kayla Peters-Whiteman. “My mother’s continued support and her resilient ways have made me a strong and kind person like her.” And Kayla: “She has transformed my soul for the better and shown me what true friendship is. I will forever respect and love her.”

Dylan has a word for Indigenous youth. “Post-secondary program will open up many exciting doors for you. But the journey is not easy; sometimes you may feel like a system is in place that is holding you down. But do not give up.” He continued, “Me, the world, your ancestors, and your soul are begging you to push forward and show the world that your abilities surpass any challenge in your way.”

Dylan Emery Menard, B.Ed

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GDI is a Saskatchewan-based educational, employment and cultural institute serving Métis across the province

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