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Terrance Saunders

Grade 8 Teacher
Lawrence Heights Middle School

Teaching and learning from the heart.

I began my career as a certified teacher in 1989 in a Grade 1 classroom at Flemington Rd Elementary in the Lawrence Heights community. I was deeply connected to this community as I also worked as a tutor, conducted multi-cultural assessments on students who had recently arrived from the Caribbean and taught Black studies in the neighbourhood. 

Because of this, I felt that I knew how to teach these students: these second generation children of Afro Caribbean descent, or recent refugees, of Afghani or Iranian descent, or from single parent homes and wrongly characterized by the most negative stereotypes as learners. 

But a haunting memory of a conversation early in my career, with Principal Madge Logan, changed everything. “Mr. Saunders, can you justify the various centers in your classroom this afternoon?” she asked me, after she had seen the water table, blocks and other centers that were the supposed hallmarks of a Grade 1 classroom in that era. “There is no learning taking place.” 

 This question, unapologetically asked of me, the new teacher, was the defining moment of what I know now as teaching from an anti-oppressive and culturally-relevant pedagogy – an approach to teaching that is inclusive, encourages student voice and provides meaningful learning opportunities that engage students based on their own experiences. 

I knew what I had to do. I worked with a program leader (now known as a Coach) to design specific, theme-based programming that included books that represented all students and built on experiences in their own lives and community. We explored the specific cultural heritage experiences such as the celebration of harvests from an Indigenous perspective, winter solstice festivals and more. Students felt engaged because they could share their own stories with their classmates and participate in celebrations.

I remember placing a statement from Brazilian author Jorge Amado in my classroom, to remind me of what I had to do each day: “There is no vacation in the school of life” (Amado, Tent of Miracles). 

Some 28 years later, Amado’s statement still accompanies me into every classroom in which I have taught. It was with this focus, “Dear Canada: Our Home and Native Land, A Critical Meditation on 150 years of Confederation” was conceived, written and produced for my Grade 7 and 8 students and to raise questions that were not being addressed.

To view the journey to Confederation in 1867 interpreted by the very Canadian bodies that were disenfranchised during that era, seemed to suggest a kind of deliberate subversion of the event, but it needed to occur so that in the play’s final chapter, Hoodies and Hijabs, my students could begin to understand and deeply feel why after 150 years they are currently marginalised and invisible. 

All students who sit in my classroom always have the assurance that teaching/learning in its most courageous, controversial and vexatious manner {to some}, will be addressed, explored and worked through to ensure inclusion.

These key components continue to anchor me and excite me especially when a particular text, or student/adult question triggers Mrs. Logan’s voice – as well as my mother’s – asking me, “Is learning taking place?”    

Our Mission
To enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and well-being
and to acquire the knowledge, skills
and values they need to become responsible, contributing members of
a democratic and sustainable society.
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