From troubled youth to new teacher

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Karla Malaiya Evaloakjuk endured trauma in her youth. She turned to alcohol and drugs and she dropped out of school in Iglulik.

Karla Malaiya Evaloakjuk surrounded by the mountains of Pond Inlet, where she has lined up a job to begin teaching Grade 3 students this fall. “I’m very excited,” she said. During the summer, she’ll be monitoring shipping related to Baffinland’s Mary River iron mine. photo courtesy of Karla Malaiya Evaloakjuk

“I struggled with personal stuff,” Evaloakjuk recalled. “I was like a really bad kid in high school… I was troubled.”

She needed a fresh start, so at age 16 she moved in with her grandparents in Pond Inlet.

“They expected me to go to school,” she said of her grandmother and grandfather.

She did. Evaloakjuk resumed her education and earned her diploma.

Nunavut Teacher Education Program graduate Karla Malaiya Evaloakjuk with her daughter Reyah. Evaloakjuk overcame trauma in her youth, along with alcohol and drug use, to return to school and attain her teaching degree. She graduated in April. photo courtesy of Karla Malaiya Evaloakjuk

Before she graduated high school, Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) manager Andrea Burry came to Nasivvik High School and encouraged the graduating class to consider a career as a teacher. Evaloakjuk applied, but she was rejected on account of not meeting academic criteria. She remained determined, continued her studies and eventually was accepted into NTEP.

She took her first year in Pond Inlet and moved to Iqaluit for the second and third years of the program. During the first two years, she helped raise her spouse’s sons and then she gave birth to their daughter on the first day of classes in the third year, so she took six weeks off. Then she had to bear down on her studies to catch up while also juggling her responsibilities as a mother.

“It was a pretty hectic time of my life,” Evaloakjuk said, chuckling. “I still can’t believe I got through it. I barely ever slept.”

A major financial boost arrived in the form of the $5,000 Jose Amaujaq Kusugak Scholarship, awarded to her by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated in 2017.

“It helped me so much,” she said. “That really helped me to just basically live.”

She returned to Pond Inlet for her fourth and final year of NTEP and was granted her teaching degree in April.

Evaloakjuk, 23, recently accepted a job to teach Grade 3 at Ulaajuk Elementary School in the hamlet.

“NTEP has prepared me to appreciate my life more,” she said, adding that she particularly looks forward to guiding youth who face difficult circumstances at home. “(They’ll) have a space where they can feel safe. They’re at the school the entire day, every day, five times a week. The school is where they build their foundation… I want to be able to be there for children.”

She also wants to see Inuktitut and lessons on Inuit culture and tradition become more predominant.

“I want the students to recognize their identity, know who they are and what rights they have,” said Evaloakjuk, who enjoys skinning and sewing and whose husband is a hunter. “The education system really needs an Inuktitut curriculum that can lead us to more appropriate objectives that we can deliver to the students.”

Evaloakjuk is comfortable speaking Inuktitut, although she’s still getting a grasp of the Pond Inlet dialect because she grew up in Iglulik, where pronunciation is noticeably different.

“I actually have a colleague who is going to teach Inuktitut in the elementary school so I’m going to try and work closely with her and develop ideas,” she said of her plans to broaden Inuit language instruction.