Men with Class

When we started looking this spring for male teachers who are making a difference, we were inundated with names from W.H. Croxford, Airdrie’s newest high school (which opened in 2014).

In the process we discovered not only some admirable educators, but we engaged with students who had a passion for photography and let them focus their lenses on their teachers.

Special thanks to Media Arts instructor Vern Gray (featured in airdrielife fall 2016) for co-ordinating the students and their work.

Airdrie education Aaron Nisbett, English teacher

When Aaron Nisbett was in high school, it was the teachers who helped him realize his potential and inspired him to pursue education. It was through them that he discovered his passion for reading and writing. Now an English teacher and the senior girls’ basketball coach, Nisbett hopes to inspire his students to find their own passions.

One way he tries to encourage students is by connecting the material in the curriculum to the kids’ own lives.

“Most kids aren’t going to read Shakespeare just for fun when they get out (of school) but if they can understand how the messages and the stories can apply to their own everyday situations, I like to think I’m good at doing that,” he says.

Nisbett is a role model for minority males as he himself is of mixed race. He hopes to prove to students that skin colour makes no difference.

“Ultimately, colour of skin is really just that; it’s colour,” he says. “It’s how you behave, how you act and how you handle yourself that really matters.”

Airdrie educationDuane Sovyn, culinary arts teacher

Not every high school has a Red Seal Chef to teach cooking.

“Recipes come as easily as breathing,” says culinary arts teacher Duane Sovyn.

After high school, Sovyn abandoned his dreams of becoming an architect to pursue teaching. However, after obtaining his degree, he decided to enroll at SAIT for his journeyman certificate in cooking.

As a Red Seal Chef, Sovyn brings his firsthand knowledge of the industry into the classroom. Students do not just follow recipes but work on their knife skills, learn how food should taste and how to properly combine different flavours.

“I tend to sing a lot in class,” says Sovyn. “More often than not, making up words that fit the task at hand, showing the students they could be themselves.”

While he ensures his classes are inclusive, Sovyn provides a safe environment outside of the kitchen as well. As a gamer himself, he runs a social gaming club where kids can come and play a variety of games, talk to other students with similar interests and “be as geeky as they wish.”

Sovyn has an open-door policy and is happy to create a bond of trust and friendship with his students.

Airdrie educationMark Friesen, math teacher

Mark Friesen has always been great with numbers and after graduating from high school, thought his future lay in business. However, after spending some time in the faculty of business at the University of Alberta, he realized his talents could be of better use elsewhere.

Friesen is now in his fourth year of teaching high school math and says he has found his calling.

“I really love the interaction and the potential that we can give the kids,” he says. “Ultimately someone who is in this profession who isn’t in it for the kids is probably in the wrong profession.”

Friesen’s personal philosophy is that school should be more than an educational tool. He encourages his students to actively seek out opportunities and take the initiative to pursue their passions.

As the associate head coach for the W.H. Croxford Cavaliers football team, Friesen has worked hard with the other coaches to create a formidable new force in the league. This effort was enough to earn them recognition from Rocky View Schools Sports as the best coaching staff.

“If we can give students the skills and give them some of the resources to succeed and be better at life, that’s the best possible situation,” he says. “The rest will come.”

Airdrie educationColeman Massey, social studies teacher

Coleman Massey has never taught social studies the same way twice. This is because he believes in giving the power to students.

At the beginning of each semester, Massey interviews each student to determine their learning needs and modifies his teaching style accordingly. He adds that he doesn’t lecture for the whole period but instead allows students the opportunity to work independently, do research and discuss with their peers.

“I like to teach students to actually get what’s important out of school, which is actual skills,” says Massey. “Give them the opportunity to do research on their own, to find out what works and what doesn’t.”

In his classes and as the senior boys’ basketball head coach, Massey tries to build relationships with his students. Having played basketball in high school, he enjoys being back on the court and working closely with the 12 athletes.

Massey was inspired by his teachers in high school and hopes to impact each of his students in the same way.

Airdrie educationColin Pattison, science and math teacher

When Colin Pattison was finishing high school, one teacher completely changed the way he thought about school and math.

“I kind of fell in love with math, as nerdy as that sounds. I just wanted to pass that on to other people,” he says.

Pattison is working to erase the stigma that math is scary. Though his students do still work out of a textbook, he also finds ways to relate course material to real-life examples.

Pattison believes in an open class environment that caters to a variety of different learning styles. He actively engages with students during class time to help them understand course material.

Students have many commitments outside of school and Pattison knows the importance of taking an interest in their lives.

“If you have a relationship with your students that’s positive, everything else kind of becomes so much easier,” he says. “Whether it’s pushing them to answer tougher questions or just trying to help them out in any way you can.”

Airdrie educationLuke Sandham, music teacher

Luke Sandham spearheaded the Cavalier Music Academy to give budding musicians a place to learn.

Academy students are fully immersed in music classes every morning where they practice their instruments, compose original songs and even record tracks.

Though he is always there to support the kids, Sandham says he tries to personalize the experience by giving students the freedom to make music however they want.

“I try my best to get out of their way and then whenever they need a hand, I step in and help guide them,” he says. “And they’ve just taken off.”

Sandham also recognizes the importance of connecting music to other areas of learning by incorporating physical education and Career and Life Management (CALM) into the academy.

“We’ve been trying to take the approach of how do these things serve you as a musician rather than just giving them a standalone experience,” he says. “We’re trying to bring a perspective of what it’s like to be a musician through the lens of everything else they’re doing.”

Sandham adds this approach helps students focus on their passions early on – something he would like to see catch on in other schools.

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