October 22nd, 2020

First-year teacher thrives in challenging position


By Jensen, Randy on April 24, 2020.

BJ Martens

a nominee for Parr Award

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

gbobinec@lethbridgeherald.com

Jennie Emery Elementary School made its nomination for this year’s Edwin Parr Teaching Award, and showed no hesitancy in nominating BJ Martens.

Principal at Jennie Emery Elementary School, Curtis Uyesugi, says that although he struggled initially when it came to hiring Martens, it was an easy decision when nominating her for the award.

“I don’t know that I have ever put a first-year teacher in a tougher position,” says Uyesugi. “A Learning Support Teacher is critical to a school team and it is not a role that I’ve ever seen be successful with somebody who is new to the profession.”

Each zone within the Alberta School Boards Association can submit a nominee each year, with zone winners announced later this spring and then recognized again at the ASBA Fall General Meeting. Martens says she was honoured and surprised when she was informed she is Palliser Regional Schools’ nominee for the top first-year teacher in Zone 6.

“I think I said to Curtis on the phone that I don’t feel qualified and don’t know if I should,” says Martens. “I decided I would just come in and learn. Learn and support, so I guess that fits the title.”

As the learning support teacher at Jennie Emery, Martens is part of the leadership group which makes decisions about school procedures. She does a lot of paperwork dealing with the special needs of students, works with educational assistants on programs to meet those needs, and deals one-on-one with students with the highest needs.

The University of Lethbridge graduate also provides professional development opportunities for her colleagues. While some might assume veteran staff members would be less than enthusiastic about advice from a first-year co-worker, Uyesugi says it didn’t take them long to trust her opinions.

“She has an understanding of how schools work as a whole, rather than having that stress of just worrying about her class or what is going on in her building,” says Uyesugi.

The Carstairs native first earned a business diploma and then later a degree in management. Although Martens doesn’t look back fondly on her own childhood education, she enjoyed interactions with children while doing office work at summer camp, and four years of working as an educational assistant.

“It was the one-on-one relationships and the daily involvement in students’ lives,” says Martens. “At camp, it was high impact for a short amount of time and then they were gone. As an educational assistant, I watched the kids grow up and just last year I went to a Grade 12 grad for students from my first Grade 5 class.”

Working with a number of teachers over those years allowed her to pick from the best traits of each and use those to try to provide the students with a better school experience than she had. Martens began the school year in a temporary teaching position at Champion School, and as that time was running out, the principal recommended her to Uyesugi.

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