Teaching to make a difference

- Crystal Bergeron

Since she started playing school with her younger brother at the tender age of six, Faculty of Education graduate Jennifer Kolumbus knew she was destined to become a teacher.

The 2011 recipient of the Maxwell Cameron Award in Secondary Education credits her father, an elementary special education teacher, with influencing her from an early age. “Every August before the start of the new school year my dad would take me to his classroom to help set up. I remember thinking how lucky his class was to have him for their teacher,” she proudly remembers. “Growing up, I saw the positive difference a great teacher can make.”

After graduating with a BA (honours) in English literature and music education from Queens University in 2004, Kolumbus added to her already impressive volunteering resume by travelling for a few years, first to Brazil, where she spent several months teaching English and assisting women in gaining employment, and then to Nicaragua where she participated in a long-term project that helped impoverished families from rural communities.

But it was during a trip to New Zealand where she was once again bitten by the teaching bug and reminded of her true calling. “I had a Brazilian friend who was amazed that in Canada we have two official languages and that all children are entitled to a free education,” she explains. “His comment had an enormous impact on me and reminded me that we are so fortunate to have a functional education system in Canada, unlike so many countries where access to education is only for the very elite.”

Following this experience Kolumbus enrolled in UVic’s post-degree professional program in secondary teacher education. “I chose UVic because of its reputation for having a great teaching program and its demonstrated commitment to higher learning and critical thinking,” she explains. “The Faculty of Education has incredibly passionate, supportive and inspirational professors and instructors who are extremely generous with their time and resources. The program is much more intimate than a typical undergraduate experience.”

Her absolute dedication and love for teaching is reflected in her glowing practicum reports by mentor teachers who speak of her as being a dedicated young teacher whose skills, talents and creative abilities contributed to her outstanding success while showing a maturity in her teaching well beyond her years.

Phil Watt, Secondary School Experience Coordinator in the Faculty of Education notes, “Jennifer’s practicum supervisor commented that from the first day of observation she knew she was in the presence of a very special educator and that in her 40 years of teaching she has never encountered a better student teacher.”

For Kolumbus, a great teacher is all about showing kindness, compassion and patience in the most challenging of situations. “It doesn’t matter how interesting, creative or intelligent your lessons are if students don’t want to come to your class,” she says. “Being patient when they need clarification, showing compassion for the challenges they face in their own lives and being consistently kind, yet firm, shows students that you respect and support them.”

For Kolumbus, it doesn’t stop here. Her future plans include graduate school at UVic where she’ll begin an MEd in special education in September.

“It has always been important to me to have a career that I am passionate about and that stands for something I believe in,” she says. “I chose education because I feel good about being a teacher every day.”

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Keywords: teaching, award

People: Jennifer Kolumbus

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