Yukon teachers tops

The Yukon might have a shortage of affordable housing and family doctors, but it has no shortage of quality educators. Two Yukon teachers were recognized this year by the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

The Yukon might have a shortage of affordable housing and family doctors, but it has no shortage of quality educators.

Two Yukon teachers were recognized this year by the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

Stephanie Davidson, from the Dawson Childcare Association in Dawson City, was awarded a Certificate of Achievement, and Dominic Bradford, from Montessori Borealis in Whitehorse, was honoured with a Certificate of Excellence.

While one award is reserved for the Yukon, this year the territory garnered two.

Not bad for a place with the population the size of a small southern town.

For Davidson the award came as a pleasant surprise.

She only found out that she had won when called for comment.

“The lady that gets the mail didn’t get it, so I didn’t find out until it was over,” said Davidson.

Bradford, who won the prestigious Certificate of Excellence, was flown to Ottawa to attend the awards ceremony last week.

“I was kind of low key about it,” he said. “Then, when I got there, it was really a big deal.”

There was an awards ceremony held for Bradford and the nine other recipients.

They also had a chance to meet the Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a Canadian astronaut.

But it wasn’t all glamour.

Three days were set aside for workshops and discussions about best education practices.

Those workshops were the highlight for Bradford.

“It was really nice to be with people who are totally on their A-game, who are working with the same sort of focus and attention I like to bring to my work,” he said.

It gave them all a chance to have their say.

“The governor general spent two hours with us, asked what kinds of changes that we want to see happen,” said Bradford. “All of us were sitting around a lecture table thinking, ‘My gosh, no one’s ever listened to our voice.’”

Out of those workshops and discussions a booklet is drafted and published on the awards website.

Titled Exemplary Practices, the document is a compilation of techniques, strategy and collected wisdom intended as a resource for teachers across the country.

It’s easy to be flippant about awards, but that kind of recognition is extremely important to combat the notion that early childhood education is something akin to daycare, said Davidson.

“The parents drop their kids off and pick them up at the end of the day, but they don’t see all of the programming that happens in between,” she said.

It wasn’t until Davidson started working as an early childhood educator four years ago that she realized just how much work went into it.

“I was kind of overwhelmed,” she said.

Bradford ran in to a similar misperception when he started at the Montessori Borealis preschool in 2004.

“Parents were really seeing this as daycare,” he said. “It took me a bit of time to find the middle ground, but once the momentum started going and the kids started reading and writing and doing things that a lot of grade twos are doing, then people start buying in.”

That wrong impression was compounded by the fact that it’s a Montessori school.

The technique, developed by the Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori in the early 20th century, is commonly misperceived, said Bradford.

“It’s often seen as this elitist private-school version of education, but it’s really not,” he said. “It’s very grassroots, very sensible.

“It’s just about kids learning and working for themselves. If you can take all the other stuff away, it’s a very accessible way of learning.”

Bradford, who himself attended a Montessori school as a child, also spent a few years teaching in traditional classrooms, but feels the Montessori approach is superior in many ways.

“There’s lots of great experience I’ve had in mainstream classrooms, but nothing has compared to this,” he said. “It’s a much more sincere approach to discovering the world.”

Right now, there is a push to get the Yukon Department of Education to fund public Montessori classes Grades 1 to 6.

Discussions have been ongoing for years.

“It’s a bit of two steps forward one step back, but I’d love to see it happen,” said Bradford. “I hope that the department is really sincere about considering a Montessori model for the elementary classroom.”

If the territory doesn’t step up, frustrated parents may take matters into their own hands and develop a private Montessori school themselves.

That would just serve to reinforce the elitist perception of Montessori education, something that Bradford doesn’t want to see.

“I’m not saying we should change the whole world to a Montessori classroom – at least not this week – but I do think it’s a noble alternative,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com