Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Interview with Ms. M, The Woman in the North

In YSHM's first interview, Ms. M describes the challenges and rewards of teaching in a remote, Northern community. Many new teachers are making their way north, where the snow, cold winds, bears, and teaching jobs abound. The sometimes high cost of living in the North is compensated by a Northern allowance, and most relocation costs are covered. Some of the more remote areas offer generous bonuses for signing on. Follow the links below the interview for information from the provincial governments of the North on teaching opportunities.

Thanks for the insight, Ms. M.

November, 2009

Why teaching?

I wanted to have the same positive influence my teachers had on me. The opportunity to affect change, be a part of a system that I believe in and hope to someday expand upon. Teaching is always evolving and there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

What motivated you to seek employment in Northern Canada?

There were three main factors: opportunity, adventure and money. There are very few opportunities for new teachers in Southern Ontario and I was hired in the North almost immediately. I love to travel and see different parts of the world; the North seemed like the perfect way to see a part of Canada many people never have the opportunity to experience. Last but not least, the financial benefits of moving North are fantastic. As a first year teacher I make just short of $100,000; more than double what I would make in the South.

What incentives are offered, if any?

There are unlimited opportunities in the North. Every teacher is offered $2,000 in professional development every year. There is a “Professional Improvement” week in February all teachers in Nunavut will be flown to Iqaluit to attend. The pay scale and benefits are an obvious incentive. There are also many additional opportunities I often wonder if I would be open to in the South. There is a convention in Oslo in May I am being considered for, I stand on 6 committees, there is ample funding for almost any endeavour and most principals are elated to give funding to enthusiastic teachers.

What PD would benefit a new teacher going to work in the North?

Special Education (Nunavut is 100% fully inclusive), English as a Second Language, and at least 2 grade ranges (primary/intermediate or intermediate/senior) so ABQ in an additional grade.

Where are you living, what is the day to day life like?

I live in a brand new home in one of the most Northerly communities in the world. We have running water just like down South which is rare, many communities are trucked in clean water and have to be very cognizant of their usage. Our heat is included in our rent so we keep our home quite balmy considering it is usually -50C outside. We’ve had 6 snow days in the first 2 weeks of November. School starts at 9:00 and it is about 500m from our front door so most days I get up at 8:10 and am at school for 8:30. We have eight 45 minute periods a day and an hour at lunch where the school is closed and everyone has to go home. School is out at 4 and all teachers stay until 5. I usually stay later to get marking and planning finished. Night time is fairly dull but as a first year teacher I find I am exhausted so it is not so bad.

What has been the greatest challenge in the classroom/school?

Many of the classes are multi-grade. Learning to differentiate lessons to teach across 4 grades in one period is exhausting at first but it gets much easier once you learn where all of the students are in their learning.

Are there occasional teaching positions available? Who fulfills the sub needs?

There are quite a few sub positions available but they are filled first and foremost by locals. Since most schools are small (5-10 teachers) there are sub days when they go on conferences or are sick, but not nearly the same amount of sub days as a large school in the south. The absolute only prerequisite you need to sub in the North is that you don’t have a criminal record. Most of our subs are local people who did not graduate high school themselves. Moving to a community to sub would be pointless because it does not occur often and they hire local people first. Unless you were in a large center like Iqaluit or Yellowknife, you might have more luck there. It’s unfortunate because for a certified teacher supplying in the North you make ~$400/day, uncertified people make ~$300/day.

What resources are available to support your teaching?

Our school has fantastic resources, and it is my understanding that most schools in the North are similar. The Internet is great, nearly as good as down south. My classroom came with an insane amount of previous teacher’s lesson plans, notes, ideas, etc. (almost too much, at first it was very overwhelming). The staff are often the best resource, they have good ideas all teachers seem to love to share. There are an abundance of textbooks and materials. If there is ever anything I think could be useful I tell my principal and she orders it, I usually have it within 3 weeks. I’ve ordered close to 100 items since September and received them all already.

How have you had to shift your preconceptions of what teaching is to be successful up North? If at all.

It is a huge adjustment shifting your preconceptions of teaching from South to North. The biggest shifts for me are:
• There are no bells, so there is no such thing as being “late”. It can be difficult when you’re halfway through a lesson and 50% of your class wanders in.
• The students can be very attention-seeking, much more than I have seen down South. This is good as most are keen, but tiring and difficult to get work done.
• There are no curriculum documents for Nunavut to follow.
• You have to often let things go. Issues that seem huge to me are nothing to the students and the school. One of the nice things is that if you have to discipline a student they have forgotten about it 20 minutes later so there is no holding grudges.
• Nunavut is 100% inclusive at all times no matter what.

If someone reads this and decides to join you up North, what is the last thing you would like to advise them of?

Have and keep a very open mind. You cannot change the way things run in the North, it’s best to embrace everything as it is, go with it, and enjoy it!

Click here for Yukon teaching information

Click here for Nunavut teaching information

Click here for NWT teaching information


  1. Teaching up North was one of the greatest experiences of my life. You feel rewarded everytime you walk in and out of the classroom.

  2. Hi, I'm curious to know what community Ms. M taught in! Let me know if you can, thanks.