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Inuktut curriculum development rewarding for former teacher

Curriculum developer Suzie Muckpah, team lead for Uqausiliriniq (language arts), came to education as a classroom assistant in the early 1980s.

Suzie Muckpah, front left, is the team lead for Uqausiliriniq (language arts) curriculum development for the Department of Education. Here she participates in a session with the expert working group that developed the Inuktut Language Arts 1curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 6, which will be deployed for limited field testing in January 2020. Front row, from left: Muckpah, long-time Baker Lake teacher Uliut Iksiktarjuk and acting manager of student assessment and evaluation (Pangnirtung) Shamim Sharif. Back row, from left: policy manager with the Department of Education Mary Kilabuk and Mary Etuangat, who is with the Pangnirtung assessment department.
photo courtesy Suzie Muckpah

"I had a very good role model. My father was an ordained Anglican minister, and he was like a teacher. He worked with people and children, Sunday school, and I really liked that. It gave me a lot of joy to be working alongside him," said Muckpah.

She worked as a classroom assistant for several years.

"I noted there was limited Inuktitut curriculum resources," said Muckpah. "In the '70s, when I was in school, also very limited. I didn't understand English when I started school. I was struggling. It made me want to become a teacher. I wanted to teach Inuit children in my language, so they can understand what we are teaching."

As she taught, she tried to develop resources, hunting for information, researching. She took courses, which culminated in taking the teacher education program. Then she began teaching in Arviat.

"Language has always been my passion. I'm originally from Pond Inlet and when we came here (Arviat) the dialect was very, very different. Back then there wasn't Inuktitut broadcasting, before IBC. The only Inuktut we could really hear from other communities was radio," said Muckpah.

"I didn't understand a word of Arviat dialect. It was like me learning English when I first went to school. So it became my passion. My father knew a lot of dialects and I wanted to be like him."

Muckpah also worked as a language coordinator, a vice-principal and acting principal. Then, in 1999, when Nunavut came into being, the curriculum division opened in Arviat. She joined up and worked on social studies curriculum for five years.

Muckpah missed the kids, so she returned to teaching for eight years.

"But I felt I was not complete in what I wanted to do. I wanted to help my people, my fellow Inuit. I was still hungry to get more information so I can help develop resources that we need in our schools," she said.

She returned to the curriculum division in 2012 as an Inuktitut language curriculum coordinator for kindergarten to Grade 6. Six months ago she moved into to her current position.

She does still miss the kids.

"Every day is different. And you learn. I learn from students. It's so nice when I go out in the community, go to the stores, I'm still a teacher to them. They still look up to me as a teacher even though I'm now in an office," Muckpah says.

"I was a Grade 2 teacher for many years so we often talk about their Grade 2 days."

Muckpah is not the only teacher in Nunavut who created her own resources. She says the resources created by others, which are very good, were used in the development of the new Inuktut Language Arts curriculum.

"We do share anything that works, any strategies that work, we use. And ideas that will help to improve our Inuktut program," she said. "So it's not like we're starting from scratch. There are so many resources out there that were developed in the late '70s, '80s, '90s – NWT days – that the teachers have developed," Muckpah said.

Asked about how she feels about where the territory is now in terms of Inuktut-language instruction, Muckpah says Nunavut has come a long way.

"With the communities getting bigger and more technology, there is more English out there. But if we continue to take pride in our Inuktut language, we're going to thrive. I believe that," she said.

"I've worked with elders in the past, who are no longer with us, who have always said if we want to keep our Inuktitut language strong, it has to start from home. We have to speak it at home."

Muckpah feels confident and happy about the new Inuktut Language Arts 1 and 2 soon to be deployed for field testing in select schools.

"Especially the second language (ILA2), because some communities have had profound loss of language. This will contribute to revitalizing and keeping our language alive."

Muckpah says it's still hard to be away from teaching.

"But it's very rewarding to be able to contribute to something that is unique to Nunavut," she says about curriculum development. "I feel like I'm making a difference and helping Nunavut students and teachers, because I was in that situation before where I tried to use southern curriculum material, tried to teach it in Inuktitut. It doesn't work."

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