'Emotional' workshop on residential schools preps teachers for fall classes

What I did this summer: Two teachers, one elementary and one high school, are prepped and ready to guide their students through the difficult history of Canada's First Nations residential schools thanks to an August workshop session.
Andrea and Darryl Hazenberg (Darryl Hazenberg)

Two teachers with the Waterloo Region District School Board spent part of their summer holidays learning about Canada's residential school system.

Andrea Hazenberg said the topic has come up during discussion with her Grades 4, 5 and 6 students who are part of the Me to We Club, but she never knew how to approach it.

"I'm still learning. I sat through three days of this workshop feeling lost," the Suddaby School teacher said.

"But at the same time I have a little bit of a light and a place to start."

Part of OTF program

Andrea took part in the workshop with her husband Darryl, who teaches high school at Jacob Hespeler in Cambridge. The course was offered through the Ontario Teachers Federation Summer Institute. It took place at Algonquin College in Ottawa and was facilitated by the group Facing History and Ourselves.

Besides the various lectures and activities, teachers were given tips on how to raise the sensitive topic and approach students at both the elementary and high school level. 

"The big challenge I face is getting students to be proud of Canada," Darryl Hazenberg told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

"Then you teach about this period of history in the 19th Century. It opens the kids eyes."

Listening to "Grandma Irene"'s story about attending First Nations residential school, at the Ontario Teachers Federation Summer Institute. (Darryl Hazenberg)

Surreal moments 

Darryl Hazenberg described parts of presentation as surreal, especially hearing from an indigenous elder. Grandma Irene, as she's called, is an elder in her tribe and did not connect with her native roots until she turned 50.

"[The] only memory of the school that she can come up is when she's dreaming," said Hazenberg. 

"She walks down the school hallway. There's a whole bunch of doors and none of the doors have door knobs. She cannot access the memories of entering these classrooms because the abuse suffered was so bad."

Grandma Irene does remember one nun who did show her compassion.

New attitudes

Both Darryl and Andrea Hazenberg believe the workshops gave them a new perspective on the country's past.

"Certainly everything is easy to read in black and white and on paper, in my history education," said Darryl. 

"[But] being there and speaking to someone who experienced it, [that] was quite the emotional challenge."

Andrea said she has always been a patriotic Canadian and the information she heard conflicts with the emotions she feels for her country.

"When we were in Ottawa we watched the light show on Parliament Hill. I imagined what it was like a few years ago when I worked at Parliament Hill, to now knowing what I know [about residential schools]," said Andrea. 

" I want my students to know that it is emotional for me, and maybe that will allow them to open up."