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From student to peer

August 25, 2015 Claire Theobald, Special to the ATA News


Education Minister David Eggen finds lifelong mentor in favourite teacher

Education Minister David Eggen’s relationship with his favourite teacher has been one of lifelong learning.

“I always reflected on my own grade school experience to draw from best practices, teachers that inspired me and helped me to learn mathematics and language skills and everything in between,” said Eggen during a break between meetings as newly re-elected New Democratic Party MLA for Edmonton-Calder, and now minister of both education and culture.

While Eggen says he had many great teachers, a standout was George Richardson, his social studies teacher at Salisbury Composite High School in Sherwood Park. Eggen credits Richardson with inspiring his interest in real-world implications beyond classroom lessons and continuing to be a mentor to this day.

But it was also Richardson’s genuine care for the subject matter and for his students that made him Eggen’s favourite teacher.

“It opens a lot of doors for creating a safe and secure place for students to learn,” Eggen said.

Richardson is now a professor at the University of Alberta, teaching aspiring teachers. He said it’s important for teachers to get to know their students, who they are, what they want and what they believe.

“The more you do that, the easier the teaching becomes because you engage  with them and you form this human connection,” he said.

“At the heart of teaching is a human relationship between teachers and students, a bond they can form around learning. That bond means mutual respect, it means working to find out what potential students have and helping them to realize their potential.”

It was Richardson’s interest in directing his students’ potential that led Eggen on a path from student to peer.

A few years out of high school, as a young teacher in Zimbabwe, Eggen reconnected with Richardson on an international letter-writing project, reaching across borders by making pen pals of their students.

Richardson said Eggen was a bright student with a keen interest in what he was learning.

Eggen said the lessons he learned from Richardson have benefited him throughout his life, and he has said as much to Richardson when their paths have crossed.

“I was always looking up to experienced teachers that you could tell were masters of their profession,” Eggen said. “You knew the skills that they had were not just curricular skills or subject area skills, but their capacity for leadership, their capacity for being a good council to young people.” ❚

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