Paul Gella, Adam Brody, and Kim Graveline each have more than 10 years of teaching experience, whether its in Quebec, the Eastern Townships, or overseas, and on World Teachers’ Day, they took time to reflect on what drives them to continue working in education.
Gella has been teaching for close to 15 years. He is currently in his fourth year as a math teacher at Richmond Regional High School. Gella previously worked for Alexander Galt Regional High School, and before that he had a short stint as a teacher in the Montreal area.
In a phone interview, Gella told The Record that his motivation as a teacher is simple: his students. His passion for the job stems from watching and interacting with children as they grow, improve, and learn new skills in the classroom, and in life, every single day of the year.
As folks around the world begin to send out messages to teachers, past and present, on Oct. 5, World Teachers’ Day, Gella noted he didn’t enter the field to be praised by students, parents, or colleagues. But it’s about making connections, he said, and preparing them for adulthood.
“Honestly, it’s not something that I really think about. For me, teaching wasn’t my first career choice. I got into it because I was really passionate about it, so I don’t really feel the need for outside appreciation or recognition,” said Gella, adding teachers don’t crave acknowledgment.
It has been a difficult few years with students and teachers coping with the pandemic, constantly adjusting on the fly and moving to online classes. But Gella had no qualms with teaching over Zoom. His problem was with the lack of interaction between his students.
He felt helpless because teachers could only do so much to generate interesting and thought-provoking lessons online. However, Gella said it finally feels normal again. Asked what he is particularly proud of over his teaching career, he explained that it’s not one thing in general.
“For me I don’t think it’s one particular moment. It’s more kind of like the relationships that I build with students who I might see at a fair, or in a shopping mall, and I haven’t seen them in five years, but they’ll still come up and say ‘Hey, Mr. Gella, how’s it going,’” Gella shared.
And if he were to go back in time to meet his younger self and impart some wisdom on what will eventually become a long and fruitful career as an educator, Gella noted he would likely tell himself to speak up more. It took him a few years to find his voice in the education network.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things. I would say, don’t be afraid to speak up when you think outside resources, let’s say, aren’t being helpful or supportive. That was one thing I always felt you kind of had to toe the line and over my years I’ve now become more vocal,” said Gella.
Brody, a Grade 6 teacher at Butler Elementary School in Bedford, has been teaching for 11 years. It is his first full year at Butler. He has only been with the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) for three years, also working at Waterloo Elementary and Heroes’ Memorial.
“Honestly, I would say it’s a fulfilling profession. I mean having an impact on the upcoming generation as well as when you’re living in a small town, the impact you have on the community, as a whole, is definitely a fulfilling one,” he said, noting he also worked overseas.
Brody spent nearly 10 years teaching in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait before moving to Quebec. Like Gella, he is happy to see things returning to normal. It feels like there is more focus on education rather than pandemic health and safety measures, he explained in a phone interview.
And as far as being acknowledged on World Teachers’ Day, Brody said it was never something that crossed his mind leading up to October. He is treated wth respect by students and parents, and, he added, they are all aware that the job goes beyond a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
He is also tremendously proud of the work he has done with the ETSB. Although often considered unconventional to parents, his teaching style goes beyond the typical textbook learning, he told The Record. His philosophy is based on children exploring their own interests.
“I’ve really tried to inspire a love for learning in my kids. I think one of the things I’m particularly proud of is just trying to inspire kids to learn freely and on their own and really try to pursue what they’re interested in,” said Brody, sharing he deviates from traditional teaching methods.
Graveline, meanwhile, has been working as a teacher since 2004, spending most of her career at Waterloo Elementary, where she remains to this day. She did spend time, however, at Parkview Elementary and up north in Nunavik, living in a village of 160 residents for one year.
“It was almost a different planet. I think it made me a lot more sensitive to all the different learning backgrounds that the students come in with, you know, the different social problems and how to manage that and teach at the same time,” Graveline told The Record on Tuesday.
Her drive as a teacher also links back mainly to the students. They are the most constant part of the job, she explained. While management and curriculum can change from year to year, Graveline continued, the classroom stays relatively unchanged, full of students eager to learn.
However, she does wish people showed just a bit more appreciation for her profession. She told The Record that it even took her father a while to understand the sacrifices teachers make on a daily basis. It wasn’t until he attended a school show he started singing a different tune.
“I think what’s a little bit different about teaching versus maybe a lawyer, or something like that, is we don’t really mentally go home at the end of the day. We’ll be sitting there thinking of our students, or driving home, or in bed thinking this is the best book for my students,” she said.
And while she has nearly two decades of teaching under her belt, Graveline said she owes a lot of her growth as a teacher to her time in Nunavik. It has helped shape her teaching style, and she has been able to use her experience up north to diversify her lessons in the classroom.
“We’re not a very diverse community, you know what it’s like in the Townships, but I think, and not just me, but our school staff, we’ve done a really good job of letting the students know what’s outside of their community bubble because that’s often a big barrier,” said Graveline.