Michelle Savich is a teacher at Mt. Slesse middle school. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Michelle Savich is a teacher at Mt. Slesse middle school. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Heroes in Education: Getting out of the classroom to learn

For Mt. Slesse teacher Michelle Savich, learning goes beyond textbooks

The Chilliwack Progress is honoured to profile seven ‘Heroes in Education’ from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us from the Chilliwack community.

Michelle Savich doesn’t re-invent the wheel with her teaching tactics, but one belief is at the core of everything she does in the classroom.

Students before academics. Community and relationships first.

“You can see how someone walks in the room whether they’re having a good or bad day,” the Mt. Slesse middle school teacher explained. “You can see it in their eyes and body language. So what that means is connecting with them as the people they are and understanding that especially now, with COVID, there are so many things going on at home and at school.

“It’s working with students and letting them know that they come first. School is second, and that’s the way it always should be.”

Savich eschews individual desks for tables with several chairs around them. In non-COVID times she likes to have a couch or three, along with floor mats, cushions and pillows.

“It creates a familiar, fun atmosphere where they can have fun and relax, let their guard down and be themselves,” she said. “The biggest thing is knowing where they are and meeting them where they are, being that safe voice and not scaring them to the point they don’t feel comfortable here.”

Savich is also a huge believer in hands-on learning. Why learn from a textbook when you can learn from real-life experiences?

There’s nothing she loves more than getting her students out of the classroom for some sort of adventure. She recently took her Grade 8s on a trip to the Fraser River to collect data on juvenile sturgeon with the Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association.

When people ask her why she prefers to do it that way, she thinks the question is wrong.

It should be, why not?

“We’re so lucky here in Chilliwack to have what we have around us, and experiences teach you so much more in life than memorizing facts from a textbook,” she explained. “When we go to the river, I see them gaining first-hand awareness that their little impacts can make a big difference. It’s an eye-opening experience.

“Yeah, they could have just read this in a textbook, but we have it right here.”

In the process, Savich believes her students are creating memories that will stick with them, and help to guide them, long after their Grade 8 days are done. The most rewarding moments in her job are when former students come back to visit or she meets them in the community, and they talk about those experiences she provided.

“Kids drop by the school, or they email and say, ‘Hey, I got to do this,’ or they ask if I’ll be a reference for them,” she said. “In terms of your impact as a teacher, those are the things that really say you did something right. Sometimes teachers don’t always get to know their impact, so those are the moments I take to the bank where I can say, ‘This mattered. I was able to do this for a student.’

“Sometimes they don’t even say it, but you get that look and you just know you made a difference. However it happens, it’s magical.”

Go to theprogress.com/community to read about Chilliwack’s other Heroes in Education. All seven features will be published May 1 and 2.

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