Thunder Bay

Teachers failing aboriginal students, Lakehead prof says

Teachers need to change what they're doing in the classroom if aboriginal students are going to succeed in school, according to John Hodson, chair of Lakehead University's aboriginal education department.

Head of Aboriginal education department says teachers need better training

Teachers need to change if aboriginal students are going to succeed in school, according to John Hodson, chair of Lakehead University’s aboriginal education department.

Hodson says current teaching methods often leave aboriginal students feeling assaulted by the ignorance or misconceptions of their teachers.

More than half of aboriginal students in Canada drop out of school.

Lakehead University professor John Hodson says the greatest determining factor of students' success with education is their relationship with teachers.

"I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t want to teach kids and work with kids in a successful way," Hodson said.  "The problem is they don’t know how [to work with aboriginal students]. They’ve never been educated to know how. They work from what they know and basically that’s it."

In 2007, the province of Ontario developed a policy framework to address the needs of aboriginal students.

Since then, Hodson said some boards have done a good job of incorporating aboriginal culture into schools. But, he said, the greatest determinant of students’ success is their relationship with teachers.

"We've gone as far as we can with the posters on the wall, and the powwows and the elder and the language stuff," Hodson said. "Those are all important inclusions, but the bottom line is those kids are working with teachers and if those teachers don't know how to teach those kids, those kids will drop out."

Student encounters stereotypes about heritage

Grade 9 student Desiree Towedo has no intention of dropping out of St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay. She said she has encountered some stereotypes about her First Nations heritage at school, but overcoming them makes her stronger.

"I just laugh it off because they have this idea of what Aboriginals really are," Towedo said. "And the great feeling is to prove them wrong." 

Hodson said he admires Towedo’s attitude, but said it’s sad that aboriginal students have so much to overcome at school.

He said Lakehead University has plans to adapt and use a successful teacher-training model from New Zealand.

Hodson said that country has increased the graduation rate of its indigenous children, and all children, by showing teachers new ways to teach. 


Jody Porter

Senior Reporter

Jody Porter is a senior reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont. She is the recipient of a Debwewin Citation from the Anishinabek Nation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues and a Massey College Clarkson Laureate in recognition of public service.