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Spreading the word about education

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 8, 2012

She harnessed her passion for teaching youth and built up communication between students, teachers, parents and the public about what education means.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gayla Meredith is the newly-elected president of the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association and is excited for her two-year term. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

Now, Gayla Meredith is heading the NWT Teachers' Association as president and hopes to increase the discussion of issues teachers are facing in the North, give every member a voice and create a plan of action through their directives.

Growing up on a farm in rural Manitoba, Meredith started her first career as a bank loan officer following a commercial art diploma.

"For me, I'd always had a passion for working with kids," said Meredith. "I found I just loved going up to the schools and working with the kids and bringing the kids to tour them around the bank and stuff."

It wasn't hard to decide a change was necessary and she promptly completed a bachelor of education at Brandon University in her home province when she was about 33 years old.

She said she had "a calling" to come North and start her teaching career. She took her final practicum at Range Lake North School the year it opened its doors to the community in 1993 - her first class was a Grade 4/5 split. Throughout her career, her teaching spread from grades 2 to 5, peppered with some Grade 8 art classes.

The next year, in 1994, Meredith got a full-time job a mere three days before school started. She stumbled into a room full of chairs and desks in a disorderly fashion and she got to work making the room her own.

"The time just flew by. My teaching career kind of developed into a passion for integrating all of the subject areas into writing. Book publishing developed over time," said Meredith.

Her book-making process in class was a huge hit. Some the students would take home, some would sit on the shelves in the classroom and past students would wander in at recess to read an old favourite. One book, Diamond Fever, written by her students actually got published in 2005.

"They were authors, had book signings, a book launch and the money goes back to school for literacy programs," said Meredith.

Meredith also became a published author herself, with 6,000 copies of the award-winning book, titled Canada's Northern Diamonds ... from Rocks to Riches, sold and proceeds donated to the Northwest Territories Literacy Council to develop a book publishing bursary program for Northern schools.

After a sabbatical leave in 2005, Meredith immersed herself both with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, and then as communications officer with Yellowknife Education District No. 1. She did not fully leave the classroom, however, co-ordinating workshops on the weekend with groups of students. She still oversees workshops for current teachers to develop their own book-making classes.

Meredith moved to the position of co-ordinator-member services for the NWT Teachers' Association (NWTTA) in 2009 which extended her already strong initiative to break down communication barriers between the home, the school and community.

She was quite familiar with the association, having volunteered her time to develop communications pamphlets, resources, workshops and other public relations initiatives since 1997.

She developed the Thank You For Making a Difference initiative through the association in 1998 which has offered more than 20,000 messages of thanks submitted by students to teachers.

Meredith also initiated the job shadow program which spread from Yellowknife schools to the whole territory where members of the legislative assembly and the public join teachers in the classroom for a day to understand what being an educator is all about.

"I've always been passionate about helping the public understand education because it's changed so much over time," she said.

She developed a new look for the association's monthly newsletter, wrote a monthly newspaper column for about six years titled Home and School Connection and one of her platforms as president of the NWTTA is to give a voice to each and every member of the association through an online survey, not solely receiving reports from regional representatives, to express what issues everyone involved sees in and out of the classroom.

"We'll have all of that information so when we come together with our planning, it'll be based on members and the full, collective voice," said Meredith. She said challenges in education in the North are not unlike other areas of the country: declining enrolment due to lower birth rates, attendance issues, and the demands on teachers steadily increasing - something Meredith said must be observed and scrutinized.

"There's data collections, there's standardized testing, there's various kinds of assessment. The thing that I see is there's good in a lot of what's coming down, the changes, however, I think there needs to be caution into everything that's being added on when nothing's being taken away," she said.

"Teachers already work a long work week and there just always seems to be more put on their plate."

This summer, Meredith is attending meetings, visiting family - she has two daughters in their 20s - and getting her kayak out on the northern waters. She said she will take the time to do a lot of planning in her new two-year role as president and is excited to work with the strong team - 800 strong - of educators in the territory.

"We've got some dynamic teachers in the North. It's incredible. The dedication, the passion the talents, the expertise that we have in the North its really exciting to see and you want to keep that," she said.

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