By Pam Chamberlain
Not many people can say that they are ecstatic about going to work each day. But Gordon Naylor is.
Gordon teaches mathematics, physical education, and health at Ermineskin Junior-Senior High School in Maskwacis, Alberta. He is also the school’s athletic director and coaches the volleyball, basketball, and track and field teams. It may sound like a heavy workload, but Gordon isn’t complaining. He says, “I am incredibly lucky, so early in my career, to have found a school that fits me personally and professionally.”
“As a First Nations university graduate myself,” Gordon says, “education is very important to me. Seeing the next generation of First Nations students push themselves in different aspects of their academic lives (both in the class and out of it) is very rewarding.”
Gordon grew up in Wabasca, and he chose Augustana because of the small size of the campus. “I graduated from high school with twelve people,” he says, “so a big campus didn’t appeal to me. Augustana was welcoming and warm from the first day I stepped on campus.”
Gordon took a minor in physical education and was an avid Vikings fan who cheered on his friends and kept score at basketball games. He was also a residence assistant for two years and then worked for Residence Services.
“Working for Residence Services helped me realize that I wanted to become a teacher,” Gordon recalls. “There is no doubt it helped shape me into the person I am today, both professionally and personally.”
During his education degree, Gordon worked for the City of Edmonton’s Flying Eagle program, an Aboriginal awareness program that took place in playgrounds across the city. Before taking part, Gordon didn’t feel connected to his Cree culture due to the lasting effects of residential school—his grandmother attended residential school and lost her ability to speak Cree. “That position helped me become more in tune with my First Nations heritage,” he explains. “I knew I wanted to help students of similar backgrounds achieve their goals and aspirations.”
Those goals and aspirations can exist outside of the classroom as well, which is why Gordon enjoys coaching for more than the fact that it allows him to engage with his personal passions. “Sports really help in holding kids accountable and teaching them time management. It also offers stability. With the population I teach, education has, for decades, not been a positive experience, so it’s important to create a safe environment and provide opportunities outside of the classroom as well.”
That safe and stable environment was something that Gordon had always had at home but found more of at Augustana. “I was very introverted and reserved coming out of high school but I didn’t struggle at Augustana because it’s such an inclusive environment. You would have to go out of your way at Augustana not to meet people.
“The kids I’m currently teaching have bigger than this world personalities but sometimes get a little timid when we leave the school because of society’s perception of First Nations people,” Gordon explains. “That’s why I tell them that they should go to Augustana where they will find a niche with everyone, not just certain people. The fact that I have the ability to help shape the future of people of my heritage is the thing I take the most pride in.”