I have continuously held teachers in high regard but once in a while I meet one that seems exceptional. Fernie Secondary school teacher Karen Deibert is one of those.
I met Karen over the phone last fall when she called to inquire about suggestions I had made during an Arts council meeting when was looking for funding for art at the high school.
Karen is the Fine Arts teacher; she recognized her students were talented and interested in doing more within art class than funding allowed so she took it upon herself to look for help.
The high school gets $1500 to cover art supplies for all classes for the entire year. When you realize the number of students taking art you can imagine that amount doesn’t go far.
Her students were determined to host a show at the Art Station gallery, Karen helped them achieve the goal and this past month a group of extremely talented students strutted their works of photography, paintings, sketches, sculpture and pottery in a very successful show at the gallery.
I interviewd several of the students who showcased their work and was very impressed with their knowledge, wit, and ability not only about art but life in general.
I also noticed the positive attitude towards their teacher Karen. It seems Karen is not just a person who gives lessons to students, she knows there are different ways to learn and help students reach their goals. She understands and considers that students come from different backgrounds and environments, students who learn practical and thinking skills at different rates and in different ways.
Karen said that during the art show she would take different classes of students to view the exhibit. They would walk over as a group and once there she would ask each one to look over the pieces, pick out three that stood out to them and then comment on them.
“ This gets the younger kids thinking about what Art is, its not just pencil and paper, it’s the medium, the composition”, says Karen.
Karen was raised in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, the youngest of four children; she developed a passion for photography and earned an Arts degree majoring in photography in Toronto.
She held a strong interest for the Northwest Territories and Maritimes and so spent time in Prince Edward Island and Inuvik where she worked in a residential school as a student leader, tutor and all around den mother for kids 14 to 18 years of age.
She says of the community, “they are quiet people, who use facial expressions a lot to communicate with one another”. She mentions how on an exchange to Saskatchewan one of the children was astounded to see a cow, “they see polar bears all the time but a cow was a real novelty for them”, she says.
While living in Inuvik, Karen had a friend who was a pilot, she learned to fly and would often go up with him and pilot his four seater plane. She attended ground school to read maps and learn weight information, “you have to be good in math”, she says with a smile. When she didn’t pilot she would do aerial photography of erosion patterns, monitoring pollution and to see what ice, snow and land was doing year after year. They would fly out of the Yellowknife water airport where planes stood tied up like boats on water.
She says this month’s Reader’s Digest features Bullock’s, a restaurant boasting the best fish and chips in Canada. Karen knows that’s true, she would often go there to have their fresh caught fish, and home cut fries, when she saw the caption on the magazine she thought ,”they have to be talking about Bullock’s”, and sure enough they were.
When the job was phased out in 1993 Karen went to work for the RCMP and that’s where she met her husband Bob Pollard. Bob knew this area because he’d been stationed here previously and had purchased property in the South Country with the intention of returning.
In the meantime Karen found work in Yellowknife as a teacher assistant for children with special needs, during this time she took classes, workshops and suicide prevention courses so as to work better with adolescents.
When she and Bob moved back she found part time work at Fernie Secondary. She enjoyed teaching so much she took a post degree study program though University of Victoria and College of the Rockies in Cranbrook so she could quality to teach in BC. She did her practicum in May 2001 at the school and then filled in until this past year when she got her first full time teaching position for grades 8-12 teaching Art and English 8.
Karen is a clay artist, painter, sculptor and quilter as well as passionate photographer. At home she has her own pottery wheel and darkroom.
This year she did a play with the grade 8 class, taught them about living north and educated them in some Inuit words.
She loves traveling and has toured England, Germany, Austria, Greece, Israel and Egypt extensively, backpacking for four months with sister Cheryl.
She enjoyed the desert in Egypt spending 40 days touring including hiking up St. Catherine’s Mountain, a place known for ritual, spiritual journey and penance.
A couple of years ago she and Bob hosted Leonardo Bonami, an Italian student who came for grade 12 through the Education Foundation Tours exchange.
Karen has traveled Canada coast to coast and mentions her maternal grandfather “Brochu”, was 13th generation in Quebec before his family picked up and moved to Saskatchewan to farm.
Karen’s eyes light up as she speaks about the 50 fish currently on show in the school showcase made by grade 8 students. She explains how two pottery pinch pots are joined together and turned into fish. “I have seen two and three eyed fish, fish with goggles, skateboard fish, metallic glitter fish, families of fish, everyone just come in and see these fish’, she is very praising of the end results from her students.
“You have to have a connection with kids, laugh with them, be firm with them, sometimes when they ask me something I don’t know, I tell them, I don’t know everything that for sure”.
“I’m going to teach until the kids are teaching me”, Karen says.
Karen is gentle, warm, engaging and friendly. She is humble about her talent but caring about her students.
She is the kind of teacher kids will always remember.