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Local teacher wins Great Teacher Award

Grade 2/3 teacher Gail Wylie, of New Westminster, is happy to be back in her classroom at Lakeview school in Burnaby. She
Grade 2/3 teacher Gail Wylie, of New Westminster, is happy to be back in her classroom at Lakeview school in Burnaby. She's getting ready for the new school year as one of three winners in Canadian Family magazine's Great Teacher Awards.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

For Gail Wylie, teacher at Burnaby's Lakeview elementary, being nominated as one of 12 finalists for Canadian Family magazine's Great Teacher Awards was a huge honour.

Winning it was a school and community-wide team effort.

Wylie was one of three winners of the award, who each won $2,500 to use for programming and supplies at their schools and are featured in the magazine's September issue.

The New Westminster resident said she was touched that parents nominated her in the first place and pleased to make it to the top dozen eligible for the online voting portion of the contest. But ever modest, she downplays the recognition.

"There are so many other teachers who are fabulous who parents have just not taken the time to do something like that."

Wylie's nomination was among hundreds the magazine received.

While parent Camilla Nedfors didn't nominate Wylie personally, she was supportive, telling Canadian Family in its feature story, “My daughter loves school and her teacher, which makes me happy … It’s not the one big thing she does for you – it’s all the small things. She makes you feel seen and important, both students and parents."

Wylie, 57, was something of a late bloomer to the teaching profession.

She started out as a childcare worker then became an instructional aide for Burnaby school district in charge of setting up programs for physically disabled children.

When she could no longer do the regular lifting work necessary, she decided to go back to school while still working full time.

"My goal was to get my [education] degree by the time I was 38 years old, I got it at 36."

So after 12 years as an instructional aide, Wylie began what has so far been 19 years as a teacher in the Burnaby district.

Apart from teaching grades 2 and 3, she's active in extra-curricular activities, including running skipping and stitchery clubs, helping out with a cribbage club and the school's social committee.

"I'm doing my job," she said of her award. "Yes, I do a lot of extras but I do that for the kids.

"It's so important. You see the kids in a different light than when you just teach them."

And she makes sure to incorporate what she learns about those students into her approach to teaching them. She said she's had children with attention deficit challenges who sit down with materials in the stitchery club and are suddenly able to  focus at the task at hand.

"It just boggles the mind."

It's also during such informal times that kids will open up to their peers and eventually include Wylie in their conversations. She'll learn about issues happening at home that help explain some of the students' behaviour, allowing her to raise awareness of it to parents.

As for the month-long online voting for finalists, Wylie said the entire school got involved as did friends and family from as far away as Moscow, Alabama, Sweden, England and Wales.

People were allowed to vote once every 24 hours and students made sure they did,  constantly asking, "when can I vote? I voted yesterday, when can I vote?"

Perhaps the most dedicated voter was Wylie's own father, who lives in Shuswap. With his dial-up Internet connection, it took 45 minutes for him to cast his vote each day.

In the end, Wylie received over 8,000 votes, the third-highest tally among finalists, says Canadian Family magazine.

As for what she plans to do with the money, Wylie declined to tell the NewsLeader as she wants to tell students and colleagues at her school first. She did, however, say it will be an activity that involves the entire school and physical activity, "something that brings the whole school together as a community" that culminates in a presentation to parents.

"I was very excited about the money for the kids, more so that they recognize they were a part of it," she said, stressing the nomination and becoming a finalist was most rewarding to her.

"The fact that a parent took time out of their busy schedule to write the letter, that is the biggie."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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