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Emphasis on connections sees him earn teaching honours

Hawkesville native Mark Brubacher, a teacher at Courtland PS, is one of this year’s recipients of an ETFO award. [Damon MacLean]

Hawkesville native Mark Brubacher is one of three Waterloo Region educators recognized with a distinguished teacher of the year award.

Organized by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the award recognized exemplary teaching. A range of criteria are considered in choosing recipients, including those who run an exemplary program to students and inspires learning; respected and admired by students, parents and coworkers; demonstrates an awareness of current educational theories and practices; displays initiative in continuing his or her professional growth; and shows an ability and willingness to work cooperatively with colleagues.  

Unaware he’d even been nominated for the award until he was presented with it, Brubacher said the experience was “very overwhelming” for him.

“Some of the teachers who nominated me are the same teachers who I’ve learned so much from and are amazing. So it feels very humbling and overwhelming, but it also feels like it’s really an honour,”  said Brubacher of receiving the award.  

Brubacher’s educational path began as a student at Linwood Public School for his primary years, followed by his time at Elmira District Secondary School before heading off to Wilfrid Laurier University to study history and English. He went to teacher’s college at Brock University. 

Brubacher’s first eight years were spent teaching in a section 23 program that taught youth on probation in a youth custody facility, who’d received charges through the criminal justice system or who’d received charges for not attending school. Brubacher said he enjoyed teaching through the program but found it burnt him out.

For the past five years, he has been teaching at Courtland Public School in Kitchener. Since the pandemic, the Grade 7 history, geography and language teacher has had to adapt his teaching methods to meet the uncertainty, making it suitable for an in-person classroom or a digital one.   

Last September, Brubacher began teaching in-person, which lasted until January when classes were ordered back online. The online portion ran until mid-February and then switched once again back to in-person until April. He’s been back to a digital format for the remainder of the school year.

“It was challenging, but we had to always be ready to make programs that could work both ways and make programs that could work in-person or online. And again, the way that it’s done doesn’t matter as much as trying to keep those relationships and keep connecting – that was what made it the most important,” said Brubacher of the teaching situation this past year.

Making connections with people is a fundamental part of being a teacher, he said. 

“To me, the most important thing about teaching is connecting. You can have a great program and all kinds of things, but until you connect and work that connection with parents and students and colleagues, all the rest is just details. During the pandemic, whether it was online, offline or in-person, connecting was so important. This year, it was so important to keep parents in the loop all the time, because they had more concerns than ever, parents and caregivers. So it was really important to keep a constant connection with them to reassure and answer all kinds of questions,” he explained.

“With the kids, it was important to make learning real and authentic and correct. But also to try any way we can to make it fun, because this year was all different – the needs of children were all amplified this year. The kids who struggle with their language is harder over a computer screen. Students who are learning English as a new language learner, it’s harder for them as well. And so, we definitely prioritize –myself and other colleagues – doing things that are fun.” 

One thing that Brubacher has learned over the past year that he hopes to continue as a part of his teaching is shining a light on equality, equity and social justice in the classroom, “making sure that our school system and our teaching is equitable, and as inclusive as it can be for all students. It’s really important for me that all students, in spite of background, can go to school and feel that they are represented in what they’re learning.”

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