Chemainus history teacher in a class of her own

Chemainus Secondary School teacher Janet Ruest is being honoured with the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching, the second time she has been recognized this year.

Ruest is one of eight teachers from across Canada who will receive the award on Wednesday. The award comes just months after she received the Prime Minister’s Certificate of Achievement for Teaching Excellence last spring.

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“I was astounded and very appreciative to be selected to receive this,” said Ruest, who teaches history, social studies and geography in Grades 9-12.

The educators will receive their awards from Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette at Rideau Hall.

Ruest is being recognized for the way she encourages students to explore Canadian history.

“I truly love what I do and what I teach,” she said. “I love teaching about the planet, and I love teaching about history.”

As part of their Canada 150: My Story projects, for example, students were to interview someone at least 30 years older than them, then share what they learned in a format of their choosing.

One student created a “spy’s suitcase” after she discovered that her great-grandfather was a spy for Bulgaria during the Second World War. “If I didn’t have such great students, I wouldn’t be here,” Ruest said.

Ruest, whose other awards include an innovation in geography award from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in 2015, has often been honoured for moving beyond textbooks and the confines of the classroom to creatively engage students.

Her students have participated in mock parliaments, interviewed war veterans, met with Aboriginal elders, helped build Habitat for Humanity homes and visited historical sites in Europe.

“I feel that some people teach, and that some people are teachers,” said Ruest, who has taught in Chemainus since 1994. “I like to think that I’m a teacher.”

She said she was inspired by her geography teacher Thelma Brooks and others at Parkland Secondary.

The stories that Brooks told her class about her travels ignited a passion for travel in Ruest. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel and bring those experiences back to my students,” she said.

Ruest, whose educational travels include a two-week study tour of Germany, said her experiences abroad inspired her to rewrite her curriculum to incorporate lessons on sustainability and environmental stewardship.

She credits Tammy Renyard, a former Cowichan Valley School District literacy specialist who is now principal of Esquimalt Secondary School, for encouraging her to apply for a particularly rewarding experience. In 2015, Ruest travelled to the Galapagos Islands on the Lindblad Endeavour as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, one of 35 educators chosen from 2,700 North American applicants.

“I sent Janet the information because she was always working so hard to be innnovative and creative with her students,” Renyard recalled.

“She’s always looking for a way to connect the class to learning outside the classroom, consciously looking at real-life connections and impact, and ways to bring the world to the classroom.”

Ruest said she is just one among many who deserve recognition. “There are thousands of teachers doing fantastic things who don’t get any recognition because they’re generally not out there advertising themselves.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

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