Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) has two new teachers on staff this year.Zhou Yang comes all the way from China’s northern province, near Beijing. Nasha Kamal is from Toronto and, ironically, it is the born-and-raised Canadian who says she’s unprepared for the coming winter weather.
“I’m so nervous because I’m very tropical. I don’t even have a parka yet,” Kamal said, laughing nervously.
Kamal teaches the senior sciences at DJSS, coming fresh from teachers college at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Like so many young workers above the 60th Parallel, the outgoing young woman came North in search of opportunities and experience that her home city couldn’t provide.
“I just graduated from teachers college, so I just kind of jumped aboard the whole teaching train,” she said. “I looked into the school and really liked how technology oriented it was. I came from a laptop-based university, so technology is an important tool for me.”
Her teaching subjects are biology and chemistry – chosen, she said, because science is always changing and never boring. At DJSS, she has her own classroom to call home, another benefit that the daily grind of substitute teaching in Ontario wouldn’t allow.
“It’s easier to work with. I have everything here, there’s no lugging all my stuff around. I don’t have to drag things over to the next room. It’s very convenient,” she said.
While she’s only been in town since the end of August, Kamal has already started getting involved outside her classroom as well. She helps run the DJSS cross-country running team, and hopes to help get a student gym up and running by November.
She said she always wanted to be a teacher, and credits her own teachers for stoking her fire for education.
Zhou Yang might not be from Canada, but she’s definitely used to cold winters.
“Last year, I experienced my first winter in Hay River,” noted the new math teacher at DJSS. “But because I was living in northern China, it’s almost the same temperature. It made it pretty easy to adapt to this kind of weather.”
Yang came to Canada nine years ago with her engineer husband, and spent the first eight years living in Toronto.
She said when she first arrived it was difficult to find her footing in a new country.
“Before I came up here, I didn’t know what to do. My background is as a high school math teacher in China for 10 years, but in Toronto there is no chance for me to be a high school teacher,” Yang said.
Instead, she spent time teaching at an elementary school and trying to perfect her English, something she has nearly mastered.
When she and her husband moved to Hay River a year and a half ago, she said the principal at DJSS looked at her resume and encouraged her to take an equivalency test and get her Chinese teaching experience recognized.
After a year spent supply teaching and filling out paperwork, the University of Toronto recognized her foreign training and granted her Canadian teaching certificates.
“They told me, ‘If you can teach in China, you can teach anywhere in Canada because their mathematics levels are much higher,’” she said. “Canada is an immigrants’ country. They don’t mind people from all over the world, as long as they have skills and working experience. Canada will welcome them. Canada is a fair country, they give everyone a chance.”
When one of DJSS’ teachers retired this year, Yang said she was excited to apply for the job. Now she’s in charge of the academic math courses at the school, and is happy in her new position.
While she admits that English is still her biggest challenge, she said math has its own language that crosses cultural boundaries.
“Even I find that sometimes I use the Chinese way to explain things, because it’s easier,” she said.
As an academic, sports and extracurricular activities are not Yang’s strong suit, but she can almost always be found at the school after classes have ended, taking the time to help students who need a little extra help.
— Jesse Winter