Katrina Doherty sits in her computer chair patiently as I greet her in her classroom. One of the first things she asks me is if I want to sit in an adult chair or one of the kid chairs that spin.
I, of course, choose a kid's chair — she’s the teacher, after all. She jokes not to spin in the chair as it makes a wretched, nails-against-the-chalkboard type of noise. I accidentally shift slightly and hear the noise, just as annoying as she described it.
We both laugh.
Since 1985, Doherty has been a teacher in Squamish. Nowadays, she works one day a week at Valleycliffe Elementary, teaching Grade 2. The other four days, she uses her years of experience and mentors newer teachers in the district with lesson planning, report cards, field trip planning and anything else they may need.
“The number of important things that new teachers need to do is astronomical, and they’re all important,” she said.
But, without question, Doherty still thrives in front of young students.
“Thursday is my bucket-filling day,” she said. It’s the day she gets to come to Valleycliffe and teach Grade 2. She carefully picks up a cut, purple construction paper project from the table holds it to her face and says, “Look it, somebody made me a mask today.”
That joy and her self-proclaimed love for learning are just a few of the things that make her one of Squamish’s teaching heroes.
A product of SD48
Doherty’s time in Squamish schools began long before she became a teacher for School District 48 (SD48).
“I’ve been in Squamish since I was 10 years old,” she said proudly. “I’m actually a product of this district.”
She went to St’a7mes School (formerly called Stawamus) for elementary school, then Howe Sound Secondary (HSS). After graduating from HSS and attending university, she began as a teacher-on-call (TOC).
Being a TOC took her all over the district, and she taught “everything,” she said. Eventually, she wound up back at St’a7mes School part-time.
“I actually then became the colleague of people who had taught me. It was so weird,” she said with a laugh.
Over her career, Doherty said she’d taught Grades 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 between St’a7mes School and Valleycliffe Elementary.
“It seems about once a decade, I go back and forward. I go from intermediate to primary,” she said.
With all those years of teaching under her belt, she’s taught many families — even multiple generations within some families — in the Sea to Sky Corridor, many of whom she still sees around town.
“My favourite thing is when somebody comes back and says, ‘Do you remember me?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh dear,’” she laughs. “And then proceeds to tell me what they remember. That is so cool.”
“The impact that you have … it doesn’t always come back to you,” she explained. “I don’t even know that other professions get that at all. But that, I got to tell you, makes my day.”
What’s changed in education?
Doherty remarks that a lot has changed in the education system in her time as a teacher. One of the more important changes, she believes, is the real intentionality and purpose behind teaching these days.
“We taught a lesson, it was a lesson, and it was to the whole group,” she said about the beginning of her career. “And now, we teach a lesson, but we are differentiating it, personalizing it for what different people need. And I think that’s a really big change.”
For Squamish specifically, Doherty said she’s impressed with SD48’s dedication to Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation, which, as she recalls, has changed a lot since she was a student.
“Our district’s commitment and thoughtfulness of ensuring that students who are of Indigenous descent are served well in these buildings by these people. I think that’s huge change.”
She also believes that the job of teaching has gotten more challenging partially because the type of work has changed. For example, she says how teachers report and assess students has vastly changed over her career.
“It feels like better work to me,” she said. “It feels like truer work.”
Regardless of these changes, the work ethic of all teachers continues to stand out in her eyes.
“Teachers will do anything, as long as they really feel — truly feel — that their kids and themselves will benefit.”
Advice for future teachers
Given that Doherty is already a mentor to new teachers, some of her advice may have been heard before.
“You have to be kind to yourself and know that you can’t do it all and you can’t be perfect, that you will screw up,” she said.
She adds that sometimes you will have to apologize and say you’ll do better next time.
“Don’t be afraid to give second chances,” she said. “Because, as human beings, we all need second chances. Including ourselves. We need second chances.”
“You just have to do your best,” she said. “I do my best, and I still mess up.”
But, she adds, the great thing about teaching is that “every day you get to start fresh.”
And while these pieces of advice can sometimes loom large, the first piece of advice she gives to new teachers is one that anyone can get on board with.
“Never eat anything given to you from the hand of a five-year-old,” she jokes. “It’s a surefire way to be sick.”
Editor's note: this story was published in print first as part of an Education Special Feature on March 16.