Minds We Meet—Adrienne Braithwaite

Who are your fellow students?  It can feel like you are all alone in your studies, but across the nation, around the globe, students like you are also pursuing their AU education, and The Voice Magazine wants to bring their stories to you.  If you would like to be featured next, do not hesitate to get in touch!

The Voice Magazine recently had the chance to chat with Adrienne Braithwaite from Leduc, Alberta, located on Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous Peoples, including the Cree, Saulteaux, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples.

Adrienne is “originally from Prince George, BC,” and “moved to Edmonton after graduation to begin studying at the University of Alberta.”  She continued, “My interests and career ambitions as a young adult changed several times throughout my first few years in Edmonton.  While attending university, I got married, had two children, and moved to Leduc, AB.  I also worked full-time and, through my employer, I was able to gain my travel agent certification.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2011 and was also eight months pregnant at the time.  For the next several years, I stayed at home until my children were both school aged.  My spouse frequently travels outside the country for work, and one of the best employment options for me as a young mother was to become an education assistant.  My role as an education assistant broadened my awareness of the need for empathetic and compassionate teachers.  After several years working in schools, I made the decision to continue my post-secondary studies and pursue an after-degree in education to become a teacher.  My personal interests are cultural studies, literacy, travel, and current events, and one of the best options for me career wise was to choose an occupation where I could share my passion for life-long learning with students.”

Although she has taken many courses through Athabasca University, in May, Adrienne will be graduating from The King’s University with an After-Degree in Secondary Education.  (Longtime The Voice Magazine readers may recognize Adrienne as one of our regular writers; check out her latest, “Let Your Voice Be Heard in 2021”!)

Adrienne stated, “Once I complete my program, I will be qualified to teach junior and senior level social studies and English language arts.  Having to choose between the secondary and elementary streams in education was a difficult decision for me.  I had worked in elementary schools for several years when I applied to the education program, but the curricular topics I was most interested in leaned heavily towards secondary content.  After some deliberation, I decided junior and senior high would be the best match for my personal interests.  I am currently nearing the competition of my second practicum placement, and each day I feel more prepared to face the challenging demands of teaching in a high school setting.  During my practicum, I have loved teaching about the world, cultural diversity, and engaging students in critical thinking about social problems impacting peoples’ everyday lives.  I am excited to branch out as a teacher in my own right and to be able to create a classroom environment matching my own personal teaching philosophy.”  She continued, “Throughout my post-secondary education, I have taken many Athabasca University courses and they have always easily transferred into my programs at other institutions.  AU’s flexible learning environment has provided me with more free time to spend with my family at home as well as the opportunity to be employed casually while completing my studies.  In the future I hope to continue my journey in post-secondary education to become qualified to instruct university level courses.”

Over the years, many people have influenced Adrienne on her desire to learn.  She stated, “When I was a teenager, my mother decided to pursue a social work degree after having been a stay-at-home parent for all of her adult life.  I was the youngest of four children and at the time my mother was the first person in our family to seek out post-secondary studies.  Flash forward to 2021, and all my siblings have since graduated from university.  For my own desire to learn, I would credit both of my parents.  They always had high standards for education and encouraged my siblings and I to seek out knowledge not just for the sake of obtaining a fulfilling career, but also to engage in critical thinking about the world.   My mother specifically comes from a long line of independent and strong women who have always supported women’s empowerment and individualism.  In addition to supporting one another, my siblings and I now encourage our own children to pursue post-secondary education.”  Adrienne also credits her spouse’s family, who “strongly [value] education and support continuing education at any age,” as well as her “professors at The King’s University” who have encouraged her and have highlighted the strengths she brings to teaching based on her past experiences.

Adrienne described her experience with online learning, which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  She stated, “My first practicum abruptly ended, and I was quickly thrown into supporting my own children at home with their online learning.  This was a challenge my husband and I weren’t prepared for as parents.  We had to quickly purchase a new Chromebook and find areas in our home where our two children could work without interruptions during their Google Meets.  I found it difficult to try to support my children with online learning while also trying to be attune to the emotional toll they were experiencing with all of their favourite activities being cancelled all at once.”  She continued, noting that, by November, all of her classes had moved online.  “From a student perspective, the quality of instruction was definitely hindered by the blending of online and in-person classes.  Classes were often interrupted when students were having connectivity problems trying to access the live class from home and the professor would have to pause the class to brainstorm the problems.  My Winter term in January was entirely online and were six-hour days of Zoom.  My classes had brief breaks, but the long days were draining, and I found it hard to concentrate by the end of each class.  I was used to being at my computer to do homework, but to have to be in front of your computer for six-hours of class as well as to do homework was academically exhausting.”  Despite this, there were some positives, including saving money on gas and being home when her children arrived from school.

When asked to choose her most memorable AU course, Adrienne stated, “I recently completed CLST 201: Cultural Studies and Everyday Life, and it was definitely the most memorable course I have taken through Athabasca University.  CLST 201 focuses on popular culture and how it impacts society and our everyday lives.  My undergraduate degree specialized in cultural anthropology and I took this course as an elective for my After-Degree Program.  The flexible format of this course allowed me to build upon what I already know about cultural and society and to analyze societal issues through the lens of a pre-service teacher.  I found this course highly relevant to the everyday influences in the lives of high school students today.  I was able to focus my research to topics [that] are relevant to modern students by highlighting the role popular culture plays in individual and collective identity.”

As for communication with her tutors?  “Personally, I find communications with my AU course tutors awkward and brief.  There is not the same level of interaction with AU course tutors that you would normally have with an in-person post-secondary experience.  For instance, I did really well in one of my AU courses and the course instructor said they gave me the highest mark they have ever given any student in the course.  However, when I asked that same instructor if they would provide me with a reference to speak to my comprehension and ability with the course content, they declined.  The instructor noted that because they did not know me personally (other than through the course), they could not speak about my understanding of the course content.  I thought this was strange as I had spent six months with this course tutor and worked very hard to ensure I understood the course content.  After this experience, I realized that some of the instructors at AU feel their role is to just answer students’ questions but to not actually engage as real people with their students.  I believe this is a limitation and missed opportunity for the course tutors at AU to build relationships with the students and treat them with the same level of communication and engagement as they would if it was in a real classroom setting.  However, this is just my experience with one course and one instructor and other students may certainly have different experiences with this.”

If she were the new president of AU, Adrienne would “seek out further advertising and raise awareness of the flexible programming available through Athabasca University.”  She continued, “I know this is already being done, but I would increase the efforts to raise awareness of AU all across Canada.  The demand for flexible learning is increasing and I believe Canadian students deserve access to affordable post-secondary options.  I would create a team to market AU’s programs through targeted advertising, which highlights faculty, student experiences and options for career enhancement.  After that, I would expand the AU course and program options.  If other post-secondary institutions have found creative ways to offer online programming for specialized degree paths, so can AU.”

When asked which famous person, past or present, she would you like to have lunch with and why, Adrienne chose Paulo Freire.  “He was a Brazilian philosopher and educator as well as an advocate of those who are marginalized in society.  Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) and advocated for learning as a way to initiate social change.  I would ask Freire what teachers in the 21st century should do to encourage empathy and equality in society.  Freire spent much of his career trying to raise awareness of ‘critical consciousness,’ which is a belief that with education, people can truly understand the needs of others in society.  This knowledge can then be used to impact social change.  I personally believe my role as a teacher is to demonstrate kindness and foster cultural diversity in the classroom.  By doing so, I hope to encourage the citizens of tomorrow to be more caring, compassionate and understanding of the needs of others.”  And that lunch?  “Something Brazilian of course!  This is entirely selfish to expand my own experience and taste buds.  I would love to hear from other readers as to what dishes are uniquely Brazilian as I have absolutely no experience with Brazilian foods.  A Google search comes up with Brazilian Chicken Croquettes which look extremely appetizing.”

As for her most valuable lesson learned in life?  “Knowing when to stop and listen to others instead of responding too quickly.  As a person who loves to talk, I find this hard but vital to establishing good communication with others.  My first reaction is always to say something immediately after someone is done talking, however, when I remember to pause and wait, I am far less likely to say something I will later regret.  Related to that, with important emails, I often type up what I initially want to say, then I delete everything, rewrite it, and then save it to reread before sending.”

Adrienne described having her first articles published in The Voice Magazine as one of her proudest moments.  She continued, “I had many things going on last year with my first year of the Education Program, COVID-19 lockdowns and a shortened student teaching practicum.  Being able to write for The Voice gave me a sense of pride in my writing and was a confidence boosting experience for me.

“Up until last year I had received fulfillment through my volunteerism as a Trustee on my local library board and writing my own personal blogs (baking & book reviews), but having an article published for the first time was a big achievement for me as an individual.  The opportunity to write for The Voice challenged me to seek out engaging topics relevant to the lives of everyday students such as myself.  As a mature student, I have tried to infiltrate my writing with my own experiences while also actively pushing myself to explore topics outside of my areas of expertise.  So far, I have had the opportunity to write on cultural diversity, women in STEM, inequality and marginalization; these are all topics, which I believe are so important to enhancing Canadian society.  Going through the motions of researching, writing, and having an editor offer guidance, has been such a useful and cup filling moment for me.  In this interview, I have talked so much about my passion for cultural studies, but I am also an English language arts teacher.  Writing unique articles and keeping up my personal blogs have given me a new perspective on the writing process.  As a perfectionist, creative writing has always been something I am afraid of.  I repeatedly ask myself, ‘Would anyone even be interested in reading my articles?’  As a casual writer and now educator, I am slowly overcoming my fear and self-doubt when it comes to creativity.  Along with that has come a new sense of pride and accomplishment in the things I produce both for myself and others.”

As a final note, Adrienne described some of her travel experiences, which provided her “with a unique sense of empathy and understanding towards cultural diversity.”  She continued, “During my high school years, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Romania with a team of other youth, visit Israel with my mother as well as do a student French exchange within Canada.  I learned about other cultures during a very influential stage of my life, and it has made me more aware of peoples’ diversity in terms of religious beliefs, social behaviours, language, and cultural traditions.  In Romania, I quickly learned that people in other parts of the world did not live the same way as we do in North America and many people do not have access to the same quality of living as I had experienced in my childhood.  In Israel, I was in awe of the evidence of ancient history found in our world as well as how strongly some peoples’ religious beliefs are represented in their everyday life.  During my French language exchange in Quebec, I learned about the diversity of student experiences just in Canada alone.  I realized that even though we all collectively identify as Canadian, we have a variety of experiences and express our ‘Canadian culture’ differently.  As a pre-service social studies teacher, these past experiences have provided me with a unique perspective when teaching about topics such as globalization.  I am able to draw from my experiences and highlight the importance of being able to recognize one’s own ethnocentrism.  I credit my past experiences for my earnest desire as an educator to demonstrate the value of a pluralistic society.”

If you would like to join Adrienne of her “coffee drinking, travel loving, and student teaching journey,” feel free to follow her on Instagram!  Best of luck Adrienne!

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