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Great teachers give Capital Region reason to celebrate

Helena Ewald, Emma Cottier and Tim Storm were the 2016 recipients of the Great Teachers award
Royal Oak Middle School teacher Emma Cottier, with students Lauren Poppitt and Sophie Marshall, was named one of the Great Teachers for 2016.

Rick Stiebel

News Staff

After teaching different grades at the start of her career, Helena Ewald has found her comfort zone with Kindergarten and Grade 1 at Doncaster elementary.

Ewald is one of the three honorees from last year’s Great Teachers feature, a Black Press Community Media initiative that highlights the great work of teachers in the Capital Region, sponsored by Staples Business Depot with support from Camosun College.

“Teaching kids that age is rewarding in many ways,” she noted. “They really take to singing, dancing, learning, and sometimes just being silly. Other grades all have their good elements, but the age I teach are so open. I feel like I’ve found what works best for me.”

Ewald said her Grade 3 teacher left a lasting impression. “She had a long Greek last name that was difficult to pronounce so she let us call her Angela,” Ewald said. “She was a bit of a hippie spirit and read to us a lot. That led me to love reading.”

Although it was nice to be nominated for Great Teachers, Ewald believes there are “hundreds of teachers out there” that are more deserving. She particularly enjoyed reading the comments parents included in their nominations. “It was really nice to read what a parent had to say about another teacher at my school,” she added.

For Ewald, the rewards she gets from teaching extend beyond the classroom.

“Reaching a student who is struggling and seeing the light bulb come on is very gratifying,” she explained. “Making connections with families by teaching students and then their siblings that come through your class forms a connection with the family that extends out into the community.”

If you would like to nominate a teacher who is making a positive difference in your child’s life, go to Nominations close May 14.

If you don’t find Emma Cottier in the classroom, there’s a good chance she’s on the baseball diamond. Cottier, a Great Teachers honoree for 2016, is the softball coach for the Island U18 rep team.

“I guess you could say the classroom and the ballfield are my two homes,” said Cottier, a Grade 6-7 homeroom teacher at Royal Oak middle school.

Last year’s nomination caught her completely off guard. “It was completely unexpected,” she said. “I was very surprised that parents would take the time to write such kind words.”

Cottier said she’s “very fortunate” to have the opportunity to teach in the same school district that she attended as a student.

“I’m a big fan of all the teachers I had growing up and I knew from a young age that this is what I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s a huge honour to be working with some of my former teachers and sharing a mutual respect.”

Cottier mentioned Jacqui Cunningham, her teacher at Stelly’s secondary school, as the kind of teacher she aspires to be. “She provided so many opportunities for us,” she explained. “She was always planning trips and activities that went above and beyond. I’m a big fan of my soccer coach in high school as well.”

Cottier’s approach to teaching combines personalized learning with choice and flexibility. “I’m very tech oriented,” she said. “It starts with building strong relationships. There’s times where you see that flexibility allows for more creative freedom. Every kid is different. You need to identify their strengths and weaknesses and provide opportunities for them to shine in their areas of specialty.”

Tim Storm traces his inspiration to teach back to his high school rowing coach.

“Ian McFarlane was a student teacher at Brock University and volunteered to coach our high school rowing team,” said Storm, a Great Teachers honoree for 2016. “He instilled confidence in us and was a major reason I started thinking about teaching. During my years as a competitive rower I tried volunteer coaching and really enjoyed it. The experiences I had coaching and being coached led me to go into teaching.”

Storm said he’s been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be able to combine teaching and coaching throughout his career.

“I was really lucky that I could work in areas I was passionate about,” said Storm, who retired in 2016 after 27 years at Stelly’s secondary. “I coached rowing for 16 or 17 years and got to coach my own kids. It was a real treat to see them develop. And I got to teach global studies, earth science and law, all topics of great interest for me. If I had to teach subjects I’m not as passionate about I wouldn’t have enjoyed it to the same degree.”

The opportunity to try out new initiatives in the classroom played a major role as well, he noted.

“It’s been a real transition,” Storm said regarding the adjustment to retirement. “I miss the social aspect, interacting with students and colleagues every day. You’re part of a purpose, something you’re accomplishing each day, creating great opportunities for young people. You have to find things in retirement to replace that.”

A bike trip in France and excursions to the Grand Canyon and some national parks with his wife are at the top of Storm’s list for retirement.

“The plus side of retirement is that you finally have time for those things. And there’s no denying I don’t miss having to run for the 8:20 bell every morning,” he added with a laugh.

Tim Storm, who retired last year from Stelly’s Secondary, was selected as one of the Great Teachers for 2016.