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BC teacher continues to challenge prevailing ideas about public education

Ackerman cycled 3000 kilometres across BC last summer, listening to what people had to say about public education.

You just have to open up any paper to read about what a mess public education is in British Columbia. Kids are failing, right? Parents are angry, right? The government is to blame, right?

Not so fast, says 30-year-old Tulani Ackerman. The Prince Rupert School District high school teacher cycled 3000 kilometres around the province last summer, stopping regularly to listen to what locals had to say about BC's education system.

Throughout her one-woman public consultation, Ackerman definitely heard about the bad and the ugly of education - but she also heard about the good. 

"I was inspired by New Denver’s school because of the food and flower garden that the students have taken full responsibility and pride in," 
said Ackerman in an August speech to BC parliament. "I was inspired by the long lasting and meaningful relationships built in South Slocan at Mount Sentinel School between teachers, parents and students. It encouraged me immensely to see a community work as a team for the betterment of their children." 

Half a school year later, however, Ackerman still remembers the heartbreaking anger she heard from some BC parents and students during her journey. These people's stories are the reason she continues to work for improvements to public education at the micro level. For her, this simply means going out of her way to maintain a good relationship with each student.

"Attachment is number one," she says when reached at her home by phone. "If you do not create attachment and safety, learning does not take place. If we feel stupid, if we fear failing, then we do not learn."

Ackerman says her cycling journey helped her realize that every British Columbian - not just those who control the government purse strings - 
has a role in shaping a better education system.

 "Though government funding will always be an issue, we must all take responsibility for the lack of trust and confidence in the public education system," she said in her speech. 

She sees parents, for example, stepping up to teach children how to maintain healthy relationships. She sees educators modelling effective 
communication skills that help kids get beyond their teenage outbursts of emotion.

Ackerman suggested that many individuals' anger and criticism of education comes from negative personal experiences in the past - basically, from relationships gone sour.

"I heard a lot of 'We need this, we need that, it's this person's fault, it's that person's fault.' I realized there was so much anger," she says. "People's own grievances come in the way. That's where everybody has to step up, to decide that we're going to work better."

According to Ackerman, many support the idea of integrating schools more closely with the surrounding communities. Ideally, she says, schools would be at the centre of a host of community services such as daycares, elder care facilities, fitness centres, and green spaces. The vision is not incompatible with the BC government's Neighbourhood Learning Centres initiative

"The schools need to be the hub," she emphasizes, "So the community doesn't feel like it's so separate from the school."

Even after such a career-changing summer, what motivates Ackerman during this school year is no different from what keeps her going any other 
year: her students.

"We need to think, 'What do we want for our children?', no matter what the adults think," she says. "[Children] have to become the centre of our 
web."

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