Meet this year’s Great Teacher nominees: Helena Ewald

Helena Ewald teaches French immersion to Grade 1 students at Doncaster elementary school

Helena Ewald teaches Grade 1 French immersion at Doncaster elementary school.

Helena Ewald said she was “totally surprised” to learn she is one of the nominees for the Black Press Great Teachers feature.

“I’m sure there are a lot of teachers out there who are more deserving than me,” said the Doncaster elementary teacher. “I really appreciate Black Press taking the initiative to recognize the work that teachers do, and I’m sure my colleagues appreciate it as well.”

Growing up in Deux Montagnes outside of Montreal, like a lot of girls, Ewald thought about becoming a teacher when she was young. After working in banking for a number of years, she made the decision to become a teacher around the time she turned 30, and hasn’t looked back.

She has been a teacher for 15 years in B.C., the majority of that time teaching French immersion to Grade 1 students at Doncaster, where she has been for the past 10 years.

“Teaching young students can be exhausting, but it’s so rewarding,” she said. “They are so honest and constantly saying funny things. I find myself laughing a lot at work and bringing funny stories home to my husband.”

Although teaching French immersion has its share of challenges because the majority of students come into the program with limited speaking or reading skills in French, Ewald wouldn’t change a thing.

“There’s so much growth, especially in Grade 1,” she noted. “It’s so inspiring to see the progress they have made by the end of the year. The parents work really hard with them at home, which makes my job so much easier.”

A parent who nominated Ewald and volunteers in her class described her as a “star teacher totally committed to her students … her work goes beyond the call of duty.”

If Ewald could change anything, it would be to provide more resources for students that struggle because of difficulties with learning or situations at home.

“I wish there was more we could do for kids that need that extra help,” she said. “At the end of the day you do the best you can because it’s all about helping the kids. The more support we have, the better a job we can do. It’s a huge responsibility because in some ways we’re shaping the future with the kids we teach.”

Keeping pace with a class of six-year-olds doesn’t leave much time for other pursuits, said Ewald, who listed “playing a little guitar badly,” and walking and hiking as things she enjoys when she’s away from the classroom.

Despite the difficulties involved in introducing a second language to children embarking on their first year of schooling and her reluctance to talk about herself, it’s clear that Ewald savours the opportunities that have arrived with her decision to become a teacher.

 

“The kids keep me motivated and they keep me young,” she said. “It’s a great career and I’m sure you could talk to a million teachers that feel the same way.”