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Community connections

Nunavut teacher embraces culture, land and lifelong learning

special feature: COASTS

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial's leadership and expertise in cold ocean and Arctic science, technology and society (COASTS).

By Courtenay Griffin

When Jason Hatt first stepped off the plane in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, he felt shocked by a landscape with no trees and the chill of a recent snow.

While he moved there in 2012 to begin a teaching adventure, five years later it’s apparent he’s done his share of learning as well.

Look north

Originally from Middleton, N.S., Mr. Hatt graduated from Memorial University with a bachelor of education degree and went back to his home province to work as a substitute teacher.

But due to declining enrolments and fewer jobs, he was forced to look for new opportunities.

“I was thrown into an environment and culture that was very different from anything in N.S. or N.L.” — Jason Hatt

Knowing family members who had worked in the North, he soon discovered a bounty of options and found himself on the northern tip of Baffin Island.

“Pond Inlet is a very small, fly-in Inuit community – there is no road system in Nunavut. Even the runway is a dirt road,” said Mr. Hatt.

“The school year starts in August, and within three days of arriving everything was white with snow. I was thrown into an environment and culture that was very different from anything in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador. It was very unique.”

Adventure and outreach

Mr. Hatt was quick to immerse himself in the community and surroundings.

In addition to teaching, he found a part-time job as a community librarian and got his very first Ski-Doo for exploring.

“I wanted to take advantage of the adventure side of the North while I was there, so I made friends with people on staff who were able to train me,” he said. “Since we’re predominantly Ski-Dooing on the Arctic Ocean, I had to learn when it is or isn’t safe to go on the ice and how to deal with wildlife, such as polar bears.”

Jason Hatt poses with his skidoo with the mountains of Bylot Island in the background.
Jason Hatt exploring the land on his Ski-Doo after the first big snowfall of the season.
Photo: Submitted

As a new teacher in the community, he admits there were challenges with being an educator from another place.

“The school system itself is seen as a foreign school system — not the traditional way of learning for people in the Arctic,” he explained. “The legacy of residential schools is still very much alive today. I quickly learned that I had to be very flexible with my teaching style and create ways to accommodate students’ needs.”

In an effort to connect with the community, the teachers and school do as much outreach as they can, such as open houses and community breakfasts.

Students in Mr. Hatt’s class often prefer speaking their first language, Inuktitut. So, the school has translators available for presentations and written work, to ensure students are reaching their learning outcomes.

“Elders have the knowledge of the land and can speak Inuktitut, so it is much more fitting for them to be the teacher on those trips.” — Jason Hatt

In addition to school subjects, there are other traditional skills, such as hunting and fishing, that youth must learn, but can’t be taught in a classroom.

Elders or Inuit school teachers lead groups of students during land programs, which can last for one to five days outdoors.

“I attended as a driver of a Ski-Doo and would oversee general safety, but the elders have the knowledge of the land and can speak Inuktitut,” Mr. Hatt explained, “so it is much more fitting for them to be the teacher on those trips.”

Love of learning

In addition to embracing a love for exploring the North, Mr. Hatt also embraced his love of learning while in Nunavut, completing three online courses in three years.

Jason Hatt stands in front of an empty classroom, with a blackboard in the background.
Jason Hatt is currently on the St. John’s campus completing courses toward his master’s in educational leadership.
Photo: Mike Ritter

While the extra credits will help him professionally and financially, the coursework also satisfied his appetite for lifelong learning.

“My mother was a teacher for 35 years, so I grew up in a family that definitely supported education,” he said.

“Lifelong learning is important to me, so taking online courses was a way to keep learning. Plus, the coursework kept me busy on many cold nights when it dipped to -40°C or -50ºC. And whenever I needed help or guidance, I was able to connect with my professors and access support without any issues.”

Mr. Hatt was also able to apply some of what he was learning to his teaching practice, which was a benefit to him as well as the school. In one course, he gained knowledge and skills for teaching students with exceptionalities, which happened to be needed within the school community at the time.

From Pond Inlet to Iqaluit

After three years teaching high school students in Pond Inlet, Mr. Hatt relocated to Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit.

He’s been there for the last two years teaching general studies to Grade 6 students.

“Meeting and connecting with the students is definitely the best part of teaching. Especially those students that you can see need the extra help or support. If I am able to make a positive difference with their life at school, at home or in their learning, those moments are what make it worth it.”

In an effort to continue pursuing his lifelong learning quest, Mr. Hatt is currently studying on the St. John’s campus on a one-year educational leave to complete courses toward his master’s degree in educational leadership.

“I plan to take advantage of the opportunity and complete as much of my graduate program as I can while I’m here,” he said. “And also see lots of live music, which is available in the north but not as accessible.

“While it’s nice to come back to familiar surroundings for a little while, I do love Nunavut,” he added.

For anyone considering working in the North, Mr. Hatt has some words of advice.

“It’s important to make connections within the community. Get out, explore the land and be part of the community you’re in.”

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