Nunavut educator marks a 30-year career teaching generations of students

Darlene Nuqingaq moved to Kimmirut in 1987. She's since taught children of her original students.

Darlene Nuqingaq moved to Kimmirut in 1987 and has since taught children of her original students

Darlene Nuqingaq with her Grade 3 class. She retired Tuesday after 30 years of teaching in the North. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

The end of the school year will also mark the end of a long career for one of Nunavut's most beloved educators.

Darlene Nuqingaq retired Tuesday after 30 years of teaching in the North — and she has mixed feelings about it.

"I've already cried a couple of times," Nuqingaq said. "And my kids said, 'Are you crying?' 'Yes, but they're happy tears!'"

Nuqingaq moved to Kimmirut in 1987 to teach Grades 3 and 4. Three years later, in 1990, she moved to Iqaluit to teach at Joamie Ilinniarvik School, eventually becoming school principal.

She's currently a Grade 3 teacher and vice-principal at Joamie.

"One of the blessings of living in a place for so long, is that you see the fruits of your labour," said Nuqingaq. That includes watching her students grow up and have their own children, some of whom have, in turn, become her students.

"It's nice to see the young ones grow up and become contributing adults, and friends," said Nuqingaq.

The ultimate volunteer

But Nuqingaq's impact wasn't limited to the classroom.

Naiome Eegeesiak took part in a music camp with Nuqingaq when she was eight years old — an experience that changed her life.

"I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for her," said Eegeesiak, of Nuqingaq's work with the Iqaluit Music Society. "Music was a way for me to express my emotions. And she taught me music."

Nuqingaq taught Eegeesiak to play fiddle.

Now Eegeesiak helps teach students herself.

The two have also partnered to start up an accordion program, where Eegeesiak teaches kids in Iqaluit to play traditional songs.

"She does everything volunteering; she doesn't get paid to do any of this," said Eegeesiak. "She never leaves anyone out."

It doesn't matter if a family couldn't afford the lessons, Eegeesiak explained. Nuqingaq made sure they still got to learn.

"She would learn how you learn, so she can teach you the way you understand," said Eegeesiak. "She made learning music easy so everyone would understand."

'I'll be around'

Nuqingaq said her best memories involve the students. Over 30 years, she's seen hundreds of children come through her classroom.

She said she's also enjoyed her work at Nunavut's Department of Education, where she coordinated the Master of Education program, a partnership with the University of Prince Edward Island that allows students to pursue a master's degree in both English and Inuktitut — from their home communities.

Nuqingaq said she plans to remain in Iqaluit, and will continue to work part-time. "This is the longest I've lived anywhere in my life, so I do consider Iqaluit my home."

She's already had an invitation to teach music in someone's class.

"So I'll be around," she said.