Special to the Westerly
Some people are surprised to hear that Ahousaht has an elementary and high school, with a full complement of teaching staff.
While several staff members have been with the school for years, others are relatively new, or in the case of five teachers in particular, entirely brand new to Vancouver Island and West Coast. Despite the challenges that come with remote living, teachers are drawn to Ahousaht.
Pehgee Aranas is the principal of Maaqtusiis Elementary which has an enrolment of 140 students this school year.
She noted that the hiring process was more difficult this year as British Columbia has also opened 3,500 new teaching positions.
You “have to find [someone] who’s a good fit in the community”, and not just the school community, but the entire village, she said.
Teachers are expected to attend potlatches and community dinners outside of school hours.
Aranas was looking for teachers who are extroverted, so they are outgoing but also introverted, so they don’t mind long stretches of heavy rain and dark nights without the social scene that can be found in the city.
Job postings for both the elementary and high school were very candid as to what applicants could expect.
Joe McHale is the high school principal. He has 66 students in the school. He explained that the interview process is “about that candidate interviewing us as much as we interview them…to see if we’re a good match for each other.”
Shabtika Thillaiambalam accepted the job posting for a math teacher in the high school because she wanted to avoid “the pollution and stress created by the crowded living conditions” in London, UK where she had been teaching before making the move to Ahousaht.
“Ahousaht’s pristine nature and close-knit community and values” drew her here. “Working in Ahousaht is a gift I am giving myself for my health and well being, moreover being able to help the students and the community brings me more happiness.”
Rusty Tannant has been teaching in the elementary school for two years and applied because of Aranas’ “hilarious and interesting job posting.”
She committed to the job and lifestyle because “people were so friendly at the job interview and because it is so beautiful!”
Appreciation of the beauty of Ahousaht’s surrounding landscape is a common theme for new and returning teachers.
Daniel Lightning Soifer and his wife Jen Lightning Soifer have moved to Ahousaht twice! Daniel accepted the grade six position at Maaqtusiis Elementary School in September 2015.
A year and a half later, they returned to Edmonton on maternity leave to deliver their twins Coral and Isla, who joined their other daughter, four-year-old Maple. Last week they moved back to Ahousaht to start the 2017 school year, where Daniel will be teaching PE.
Daniel explained that teaching in Ahousaht allowed him to “spend more time with family in an amazing setting”. “In Edmonton, we would go into nature on weekends and here we can do that anytime. We aren’t living for the weekend”.
Ahousaht’s remote location in Clayoquot Sound is not for everyone, but teachers who do make the journey, say the benefits are clear.