Thirty years ago Joann Biehl began her teaching career in Ninette, Manitoba and she will finish it in Deloraine School in June. She obtained her Arts degree and Bachelor of Education After Degree from Brandon University.
Teaching was not Biehl’s first career choice. “My brother was already a teacher and I thought one teacher in the family was enough. Not the best logic but I was young,” she said. After obtaining her Arts degree Biehl worked for 10 years, first in a group home for young adult males and then at Sunnyside Workshop (now known as the Handcrafter), a vocational training center for adults with disabilities, eventually becoming manager. “Following that I worked as an assistant in Boissevain School where I finally decided two teachers in my family would be just fine.” So it was back to BU to work on her Education degree. The job market for teachers at that time was very tight, and being married to a farmer – choice of school divisions to work was limited. “I needed to pick up something that would set me apart from other applicants so I took computer courses and a summer French course. That summer course at St. Boniface College created my passion for studying French and I never looked back. I signed up for as many French courses as I could find and went on several intensive immersions, one in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. Those courses were what landed me my first teaching position.
Biehl has taught all grades from 1-12 throughout her career. At her first position in Ninette, she taught grade 1-7 (three grades at a time), all subjects except Math. “That was a challenging year for a first year teacher with two small children at home. It turned out Biehl was one of eight teachers cut from Turtle Mountain School Division that June. However, she was hired back ¾ time as an itinerant French teacher traveling form Minto, Dunrea and Ninette daily. Eventually Biehl got a position in Boissevain School but it was never full-time, so when a position came open in Antler River School Division, she jumped at the chance. “I’ve been happy ever since,” she said.
As far as students go, Biehl says there’s not been much change. “Kids are kids, and I am sure every generation since time began has complained about the downfalls of the next generation. Every generation of students has its challenges to face. What has become very challenging to this generation, I believe, is the speed at which the world is changing, especially the world of technology”.
“I have often heard Education is like a pendulum and I have been through quite a few pendulum swings in 30 years. I am often intimidated at in-services about a new teaching technique or theory until I realize five minutes into the session that I do something similar only I don’t call it by the same terms. The basics will always be there, no matter what it is called. The most important thing is to teach students how to learn so they can be flexible in an ever changing work force.”
Biehl said the best advice she ever received was from a University professor. He said a curriculum guide is just that – it is a guide to teaching, that’s it. You will never cover everything in that guide, but be sure to never lose sight of those students sitting in front of you. “I’ve tried to keep that advice in mind my whole career,” she said.
Education isn’t all about the classroom. In fact, Biehl says some of her best moments with students happened outside of the classroom. “Going on field trips or putting on events together both have helped me to see a different side of my students than what I see in the classroom. My greatest satisfaction is when I hear about past students continuing to develop a love for traveling after going on school trips with me. As stressful as those trips were at times, seeing students’ faces when they see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or hearing them talk about places they have learned about in school and then getting to see them first hand, was very satisfying for me.”
And inside the classroom, Biehl says she has always celebrated those “aha” moments; those moments when a student finally gets a difficult concept.
Biehl also gave much of her time to extracurricular by coaching. If ever the school was short a coach, she volunteered because of her strong belief that team sports teaches students so much. “The hardest adjustment I had to make teaching in Deloraine was learning about hockey. I did not grow up around hockey and it was a pretty steep learning curve for me,” she said.
Not missing a beat, when asked what she will miss most about teaching, Biehl said – “the students. All of them. In spite of report card deadlines, late night lesson planning and marking, endless data collection, evaluations and assessments and countless other frustrations that has always been a part of education, the students were always what made me look forward to my day and always made me laugh.”
Biehl has many great memories but cites one of her favourites will always be what her grade 7 and grade 9 classes did for her when she turned 60. She is an avid Blue Jays fan and she might have mentioned that a time or two. “For my birthday my grade 7 students that year gave me a surprise party and presented me with a pair of Blue Jay’s running shoes and my grade 9 students bought me a Blue Jays jersey. It doesn’t’ get more special than that,” she said in conclusion.