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From human to humanitarian

October 20, 2015 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Through its International Co-operation program, the Alberta Teachers’ Association supports a number of humanitarian projects, many of which are spearheaded by Alberta teachers. The stories on this page are the first in a series entitled From Human to Humanitarian, which will profile some of these teachers and their humanitarian efforts. The series will run in the
ATA News throughout the current school year.

Masulita project

Martyn Chapman is the project co-ordinator of the ATA’s Masulita pilot project. Now in its second year, the initiative will send a group of teachers to Masulita, Uganda for three weeks next summer.

Participants will engage in a variety of activities in collaboration with representatives from the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) and the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO).

Planned activities include conducting professional development workshops for teachers in Masulita government schools and nearby communities and co-teaching on a daily basis with local teachers.

There will also be opportunities to coach sports like soccer, basketball and volleyball; participate in the daily tasks of village life, such as cooking, cleaning and farming; visit households in the community and observe a village savings and loan association meeting.

The ATA is currently accepting applications until December 1, 2015. For more information, click here.


Martyn Chapman: Powerful teacher

British expat finds comfort zone in adopted homeland

Martyn Chapman learned the power of the teacher very early in his career.

He witnessed it first-hand while he was studying to be a teacher, during a 10-week practicum at one of England’s roughest schools in London’s east end.

“In 10 weeks, there were three teachers attacked [by students],” he recalls. “And yet, that’s where I saw the power of the teacher, because I could see the same children behaving like absolute animals with one teacher and in the next class they were putting their hands up.”

“It showed me … it’s the teacher that makes the difference.”

That lesson stuck and would remain with Chapman throughout his 40-year teaching career.

During that time, he tried to emulate those gifted teachers he witnessed during his practicum. While these individuals were all very different, they shared some common traits. They weren’t bothered that kids came from really bad backgrounds; they were inclusive, nonjudgmental and forgiving.

“If the kid acted up one day, the teacher still had that same attitude towards them the next day —yesterday was gone.”

To Chapman, being adaptable is a key to being a successful teacher, and so is personal background.

“Good teachers have to have had some problems of their own,” he says. “If you’re fixed in an upper-class kind of culture and you can’t adapt to the kid coming from a totally different background … you can’t teach.”

Chapman’s own path to becoming a teacher wasn’t without turbulence. He came from a fairly poor background himself, growing up in Winchester, England (about 100 kilometres southwest of London). His father was a Second World War veteran who worked as a shop assistant, and his mother was a secretary.

There was a lot of affluence around Winchester, but that did not filter down to the people living in the slums near the river.

Fortunately for the Chapmans, the city began building new housing for the poor. After a few years, the family of six was able to rent one of those houses, but Chapman’s parents never owned their own house, nor did they ever own a car.

“The times in that house were happy ones,” Chapman says. “All the families were young and all the kids went to the same primary school.”

In quick succession, Chapman soon experienced the worst and the best when it came to teachers. In Grade 3, he experienced one of the worst teachers imaginable — a woman who constantly criticized and belittled children in front of everyone.

“This woman did so much damage to so many children,” Chapman says.

Fortunately for him, the next year his teacher was Ms. Read, without whom his life would have been completely different.

“She was kind, caring and inspirational,” says Chapman.

She also told Chapman’s parents to have his eyes tested. This led to an improvement in his eyesight, which improved his reading and prompted a reversal of a previous demotion to the slower class.

“Outside of having a kind, loving family, the power of that teacher was the single greatest influence on my formative years,” he says.

Chapman’s first career choice was engineering. He had his sights set on an apprenticeship at Rolls Royce, but that door closed when he failed a course in the degree program he was taking, so he fell back on his second choice: a teaching program.

By the time he was set to graduate (in 1970), the job prospects in England weren’t good, but school boards in northern Alberta were so desperate for teachers that they were recruiting overseas. At 23, Chapman interviewed and was accepted.

“They said, ‘I think we’ll send you to Mayerthorpe … it’s even nicer than Sangudo,’” he recalls with a laugh.

His plan, like that of so many others, was to stay for a year or two and then return home. It didn’t pan out.

Chapman liked being part of a young, energetic and vibrant staff that included a good principal. He also took a shine to the people in the community.

“The people were very kind, friendly. They knew I had no family so I would always get invited to places. Some of those people are still very good friends,” he says.

What Chapman liked most about teaching in Canada, he says, was the relative equality, illustrated by the fact that most students attend the same schools.

“There are very, very few countries in the world where this happens,” he says. “In the U.K., many MPs come from private schools and have no idea how most of the citizens live.”

Now retired, the 68-year-old Chapman still lives in Mayerthorpe, where many of the residents — including his doctor, his plumber and several nurses at the hospital — are former students.

Questions and answers

Throughout his teaching career, Chapman was primarily a math and physics specialist. His approach, honed over many years and after much trial and error, was to groom his students to ask questions of themselves, which allowed them to develop the ability to think their way through difficult math problems.

“You don’t give any answers. If you’re teaching math, you just question, question, question,” he says.

Another of Chapman’s approaches as a teacher was to focus on the kids on the periphery, those who didn’t fit into the mainstream, not by pandering to them, but by simply joining in when they were playing a game or engaged in conversation.

“It can head off a lot of work if you can get those troublesome kids on your side. Going back to that first school, that’s what those teachers did, they got those troublesome kids to co-operate … and it’s basically by taking an interest.”

This approach stems from the fact that Chapman himself has social anxiety issues in group situations, so he naturally identifies with “the loner.”

“I always tried very hard to make everyone comfortable in class because I knew that there were a number who really didn’t want to be there and had the same anxiety issues,” he says.


Throughout his career, largely due to the fact that he and his younger brother were bullied in school, Chapman believed in finding the root of a problem rather than simply punishing a student for misbehaving. When he assumed some administrative duties, this philosophy led him to use different methods than some when addressing misbehaviour and bullying.

As an administrator, when a teacher sent a student to him, he’d deliver the required disciplinary message but he would also dedicate time toward making the meeting a positive experience for the student by taking an active interest in some aspect of the student’s life.

“Sometimes my methods were unorthodox, but that’s how you form that bond that makes everyone’s lives easier,” he says.

“At times the classroom teacher just wanted to see punishment and the kid to come back looking miserable as a consequence for bad behaviour, but you have to think, ‘I don’t want the kid to come back to my classroom miserable. I want him to come back with a different kind of attitude.’”

A bad year

It was during his one year as a principal that Chapman experienced “everything bad that happened” in his teaching career.

After taking over the role, he moved quickly to address chronic loitering in the hallways and overall poor behaviour in the school. Looking back, he recognizes that he tried to do too much, too soon. This led to pushback from some teachers and parents.

“I got called a little Hitler,” he says.

Chapman also had to deal with a number of difficult situations when students’ troublesome home lives spilled over into school. The worst one involved a boy who didn’t fit in, one with whom Chapman had formed a bond.

Chapman saw the boy coming down the hallway when he should have been in class. The boy’s conduct led Chapman to suspend him pending a meeting with his parents. At that meeting, a few days later, the situation became more serious.

“His parents told me, ‘He’s gone and he’s taken the gun.’”

Police launched a search that included all the local back roads and even put a helicopter in the air. Ironically, the next day Chapman had a meeting with the school board to make his case for more counselling in schools.

“That’s when the news came. They’d found him. He’d gotten a hotel room in Whitecourt and then he shot himself.”

“I still think to this day, ‘what if I hadn’t seen him?’ I just happened to see him in the hallway,” he says.

Among the difficult tasks that fell on Chapman was making a home visit to deliver the belongings from the boy’s locker.

“There were signals there that could have been signs,” Chapman says. “I think if I had been paying more attention, it might have been …”

For Chapman, the one bright spot to emerge from the tragedy was the way the boy’s classmates came together.

“Without prompting or guidance, almost all the classmates pulled together to attend the funeral, help the family, the community and even me,” Chapman says. “I was so impressed with them.”

Sunnier times

Chapman’s difficult year as a principal prompted him to make a change. After 18 years of teaching in Mayerthorpe, he took a job teaching high school in Barbados.

“It was like teaching in heaven,” he says.

He stayed five years and would likely never have left if his wife hadn’t lost her job due to an economic downturn. He returned to Mayerthorpe and went on to spend the final 17 years of his career teaching high school math in nearby Whitecourt.

It was there that Chapman encountered the student he most admired.

David Lovdahl had a rare genetic illness called Behçet’s Syndrome. He would have been one of the best mathematics students in his grade if he’d been able to attend school regularly. As it was, he missed a lot of school while undergoing medical treatment, including some experimental treatments in the United States.

“Ten or 11 times his mother was told that he would not leave the hospital, but he managed to fight back each time,” Chapman says.

Lovdahl never complained and achieved his goal of graduating with his classmates but became ill again two months later. This time, the doctors were right.

“I had the honour of delivering a eulogy at his funeral,” Chapman says. “He is still an inspiration to me whenever I think I have a problem. I miss him and still think about him.”

Making a difference

Former colleague Jodi Rosvold describes Chapman as a very well-loved and respected teacher.

“He’s quiet around large groups. When I talk to students who have had him as a teacher, they found him captivating. His ability to work with children is just amazing,” Rosvold says.

“He’s always trying to find that angle to take to make sure that students have understood … he does that without making you feel stupid.”

Looking back at his teaching career, Chapman says the most rewarding aspect was making a difference for students, something he believes teachers can do —
particularly for students from poor backgrounds — by helping to provide more structure and stability.

“Some students have told me that I made a difference in their lives,” he says, “because I would listen.” ❚


Martyn Chapman: Powerful human (itarian)

Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

In 2007, high school teacher Martyn Chapman applied for Project Overseas, a program run jointly by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. That experience took him on a professional development project to the African country of Ghana, where he has since returned four times as a team leader.

After returning home from that first project, Chapman joined forces with colleagues Jodi Rosvold and Marilyn Dudinsky to start a humanitarian student group at Hilltop High School in Whitecourt. The posters they put up advertising the initiative captured the interest of students who didn’t otherwise fit in at the school. The project took off.

“We were amazed at the response,” Chapman says.

The group started raising money and researching options for using that money to help people in Africa, eventually choosing to help the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO). UWESO is dedicated to improving the lives of orphans and vulnerable children and operates throughout the country.

Later, Hilltop also began assisting the Rural Welfare and Development Association (RWADA), a community-based women’s organization that helps orphans with school fees and materials.

The Hilltop group raises money year-round by hiring out its volunteers to work doing catering jobs and set-up for events. It sends $1,000 a month, 12 months a year, to the Uganda groups. The money helps provide food, lodging and schooling for orphans.

“If we don’t provide funding, some of these children are not going to school,” Chapman says.

It’s difficult for the African children to believe that children in Canada would write letters to them and work to raise money to help them attend school, he says. Meanwhile, the Whitecourt children benefit by gaining a better, more real-life view of the world, as well as knowing their actions are making a difference to their friends in Africa.

“Because of the personal contact, those children in Africa will never forget,” he says.


Local support

Over the years, Chapman has developed a strong belief that the best way to help people in poor countries is by supporting local organizations rather than international NGOs.

“The large NGOs from the developed countries do good work but at a much higher cost and they are always outsiders. After all this time — about 50 years — Africans should be running their own organizations,” he says.

His experiences in Africa have shown him the tremendous capacity of African people and have prompted him to question how he can best be of service.

“I wondered why I was there and I still ask that question, ‘Should I be going? Is it worth the airfare to go or should I just donate that money?’” he says.

Chapman continues to make regular visits to Africa, having come to view these as a valuable part of his humanitarian efforts.

“I’ve realized now the benefits of that personal contact and I think it’s just as important as the money,” he says.

Long-time colleague Jodi Rosvold has seen the impact of Chapman’s personal visits. The Ugandan children send back video updates and, in every one, they thank “Uncle Martyn” for coming to visit them.

“I’ve got letters from the orphans saying they never had hope, and now they do,”
Rosvold says.

“They just had no hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty, and for so many of them Martyn has been their family.”

Rosvold describes Chapman as extremely caring and compassionate, someone who gets things done and who does things that few people are willing to do.

A recent example was a February trip to Uganda during which Chapman spent five days taking orphans to the dentist, rising each day at 5 a.m. to arrange transportation, then spending hours each day accompanying the children to their dental visits.

“He’s such a good person,” she says, “that he makes other people want to be good people.” ❚

Now retired, Martyn Chapman spent 35 years teaching in north-central Alberta after being recruited from his native England as a young graduate in 1970. For the last several years, Chapman has been heavily involved in Africa-focused humanitarian work.

During a visit to Uganda in February 2015, Martyn Chapman helped many African children gain access to dental treatment, something they rarely get.

This African child, pictured at home with her grandmother, is one of many helped by Whitecourt's Hilltop High School through a fundraising program that Martyn Chapman co-founded.

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