Pond Inlet educator honoured after 41 years of teaching

Oopa Arnakallak knows exactly how long a Grade 3 student's attention span will last.

That's why, when she received a minutes-long standing ovation from former students at her retirement ceremony, she started to get antsy.

"It was awkward for me, knowing that children cannot pay attention for too long," she told the host of CBC Nunavut's morning show, Qulliq.

Over the past 41 years, Arnakallak has taught generations of Mittimatalingmiut — residents of Pond Inlet, Nunavut. She's taught everything from Grades 1 to 6, in English and Inuktitut, mostly at the community's Ulaajuk School.

The 60-year-old says Grade 3 is an important year, because it's when Inuktitut-speaking students are prepared for the English-language education that begins in Grade 4.

"Getting them ready for the transition from Inuktitut to English … academically, socially, physically, to go on into the next grade, has always been my field," she said, "and teaching Inuktitut has always been my interest."

Submitted by Leeno Kublu

At a special ceremony on June 5, she was honoured with a recognition from the school for her long service. Many of her former students were in attendance.

"Our superintendent … asked the audience [to] stand up if I had been their teacher ... and the majority of the audience stood up and applauded me," she said.

One speaker, she said, told the crowd she had taught "over 1,000 children."

"That was very impressive and emotional for me."

Since she was a child, she said, Arnakallak has wanted to teach. She started teaching in 1978, pursuing her qualifications in the summer months. She became fully certified in 1982.

She said seeing students grow and develop their skills kept her going over four decades in the job.

Former students with children of their own would tell her, "one day, you'll be her or his teacher also."

"So that made me [say], 'Maybe I'll try a few more years,'" she said.

Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC

This year, though, Arnakallak says she's feeling the need to slow down.

"I feel that teachers should be vibrant, full of energy and be ready for anything that comes around," she said.

"I don't have the energy to keep up with those demands ... it's about time somebody takes over. And I feel confident that I will be replaced by competent teachers who are vibrant and full of energy."

Arnakallak says she'll spend her retirement working on traditional skills, like sewing, that she never had time to acquire — and, of course, helping out at the school when a substitute is needed.

She says she hopes her example will show to other Inuit the rewards of the teaching profession.

"Especially for children who did not have the skills, when they develop the skills … they always show their appreciation," she said.