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GREAT TEACHERS PART 4: Teaching evolves through technology, flexible approach

Retired school teacher Diane McNay stands next to a colourful mural at École Arbutus Global Middle School where she taught for 20 years when it was a junior high. - Arnold Lim/News staff
Retired school teacher Diane McNay stands next to a colourful mural at École Arbutus Global Middle School where she taught for 20 years when it was a junior high.
— image credit: Arnold Lim/News staff

Like many professions, teaching has changed a lot over the years.

As Black Press continues our Great Teachers series, a celebration of educators presented with partners Staples and Thrifty Foods, we look at some of the positive changes that have affected how our children learn and look at the world.

Diane McNay, president of the Lower Vancouver Island Retired Teachers Association, began her career in 1968 and retired “young” in 2002 at 56. She taught at several schools around Greater Victoria, including the last 20 at Arbutus Junior High in Saanich.

Teachers today are, on average, younger, she says, and have learned a system of education that focuses less on such unglamorous topics as English grammar and more on exploring the ideas of free thought and critical thinking.

“I think what has changed the most has been curriculum development,” McNay says of the switch from an emphasis on memorizing facts and figures. “In social studies, which was my area, that was the best change that was ever made. It really made you think about what you would be doing and gave you more scope (to teach) more meaningful things that would make a lot of difference to the kids.”

Changes to how topics are approached in class have gone hand-in-hand with advances in technology and access to information.

Parents whose children have graduated in the past several years, for example, have seen differences. They’ve come through an era in which assignments went from being written out – in some cases researched in library books – to being written and researched on a computer and printed out. That has helped make things easier for everyone: students, parents and teachers.

McNay says the Internet has been both a blessing and curse for educators, who have had to keep themselves up to date on what’s out there in cyberspace and how it might relate to their assignments.

“There is a tendency among students to sort of leap to Wikipedia the minute they want any information on anything,” she says. “But if the school has a really good teacher-librarian, they can teach students and teachers about databases and things that will make teaching more effective.”

Penny Sakamoto, group publisher for Black Press, likes how schools integrate students with outside groups as part of the today's learning experience.

"I think teachers from past generations were bound by a more strict establishment and formality that wasn't nearly as open," she says. "And, I think the schools really include input from the community very effectively today. The high school job experience program is a very good example of that and the programs where students interact with residents of seniors homes, for example shows a real understanding of today's community based learning."

ddescoteau@vicnews.com

Help celebrate excellence in teaching

• Black Press, Staples and Thrifty Foods encourage you to nominate a grade school teacher you feel is making a difference in the community. From all nominations, one teacher each from the elementary, middle school and secondary levels will be honoured at a gala in June. To nominate, visit vicnews.com/contests/ and click on Great Teachers. All nominators are entered to win a $50 Thrifty’s gift certificate.

Other stories in this series:

GREAT TEACHERS PART 3: Community leaders share their favourite teacher stories

GREAT TEACHERS PART 2: Parents appreciate excellence in teaching

Special teachers make a difference around Greater Victoria

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