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'I'm so lucky:' Iqaluit's Joamie School principal reflects on teaching journey in Nunavut

Almost a decade ago, Scott MacDonald’s curiosity for teaching in Nunavut would set the wheels in motion, leading him to eventually become a principal in Iqaluit. This school year, MacDonald will continue his journey as an educator, but this time as the leader of his school.

Principal Scott MacDonald said he became a teacher to instill the love of learning in students. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

During the final year of his Bachelor of Education program at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax MacDonald took a course about the history and education of Nunavut.

"I thought I'd try it. I didn’t know much about Nunavut," explained MacDonald, who was raised in  Springhill, N.S.

As part of the university course, he was encouraged to apply for a one-month teaching placement in Nunavut during the spring of 2010. With his travel and accommodation expenses covered, he accepted a teaching opportunity in Pangnirtung.

While teaching in the community, he began applying for teaching positions in Nunavut for the upcoming school year.

"I just sort of applied for every job because, like anyone, I needed a job. But, I didn't even apply to jobs in Nova Scotia because I knew that Nunavut was a place that I wanted to live," said MacDonald.

In addition to the desire for a job up North, it was the outdoors and "slower paced" lifestyle that attracted him.

Within days of returning to Halifax, before even graduating, the 25-year-old was offered his first teaching job as a Grade seven generalist teacher in Pond Inlet.

"I just felt so lucky," he said.

"I’m fresh out of university, a job in a place that I want to go experience ... a lot of my classmates were setting up for substitute teaching and here I am walking into an indeterminate job in Pond Inlet – a beautiful community."

MacDonald spent the next five years in Pond Inlet teaching middle and high school students various subjects including math, science, English and social studies.

The "biggest challenge" for him was to "meet the needs of every student." In a class, "there's such a wide range of learners and different abilities," he explained, adding creating lesson plans to accommodate every student is challenging.

In 2015 he decided to head back to Halifax and earn a Master’s of Education in leadership at Acadia University.

During that one year away from Nunavut, MacDonald said it made him appreciate living and working in Nunavut even more. The "hustle and bustle" of Halifax made him miss the "slow-paced" lifestyle up North.

After returning to Pond Inlet in 2016 and teaching for a year, MacDonald applied for a vice principal position at Joamie Ilinniarvik School.

"I almost didn't apply, because ever since I thought about becoming a teacher high schools (and) middle schools were where I wanted to teach," he said.

However, within a month of being a vice-principal at the elementary school, "all my apprehensions were gone," said MacDonald.

The students are excited about learning and they have energy, explained MacDonald. "It's just a lot of fun."

In addition to being the vice-principal, MacDonald taught students physical education and literacy over the years.

In February 2020, he stepped up to serve as the acting principal for one month before schools closed due to Covid-19 on March 17. With support from his school staff, MacDonald applied for the position.

"I had lots of support from all the staff members, implicitly and explicitly saying, 'You have to become principal,'" he said.

"If I didn't feel they wanted me to be principal, I don't think I would have applied. But, I really felt comfortable that the teachers supported me and embraced me. And in turn, I can embrace them."

According to MacDonald teachers have the "hardest job" in the schools. "They're the real workhorses in the school," said the principal, adding he is looking forward to helping teachers help students and welcoming his students back to school.