Inspired to connect
A classroom isn’t only a place of curriculum learning. It’s a place of discovery, exploration, and growth. For Kyla Dykema’s students, it’s also a place of safety and connection.
“I deal with a lot of kids who come from difficult home lives,” she explains. “In every school you’ll get that of course, but I get a lot of refugees and kids who’ve been through some real hard stuff.”
Having graduated from the elementary education program in 2017, Kyla is just beginning her career and already faces some of the toughest situations teachers experience.
The neighbourhood in which her school is located means the majority of her students come to the classroom with behavioural issues, difficult home lives, cognitive delays, autism, or are refugees just learning English. It makes for a challenging educational environment. From day one, however, Kyla was uniquely prepared. Though each day is difficult, she is determined to make a difference—though sometimes it feels like a very small difference—in the lives of her students. It’s a vision she’s had since she was a child.
“Growing up, both my parents were teachers,” she says, “and I could see the difference they were making in their students’ lives and the connection they continued to have with students long after they sat in their classrooms.” This lasting difference had a strong impact on Kyla from an early age as she watched students interact with her parents at the grocery store or hang out in the classroom after school. Kyla knew she wanted to be a teacher, and that idea only strengthened as she grew inspired by teachers who spent time helping her tackle subjects she struggled in. When it came time to pursue her education degree, Kyla says she was drawn to the sense of community at King’s and the buzz surrounding the education program’s positive reputation. With her desire to make a difference in mind, one core teaching principle in particular resonated with her: build relationships.
“If you don’t have relationships, your students will not listen to you and certainly won’t want to work hard. I learned that in my management class,” she says, laughing. She took this lesson to heart for her students. “The most important thing you can do is to say good morning to them. I try to connect with every single one of my students before we start our day.”
Before she had finished her education degree, Kyla worked with Elves Special Needs Society, a program that gives children with severe disabilities or special needs specialized education programs.
She most often worked with children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. It was this combination of experience and education that made what happened next seem like a God-led plan.
“The school I work at now phoned me on one of my last days of work. They just asked, 'Do you need a job? Can you come in for an interview?' They hired me that very same day.”
Her school is one of Edmonton’s toughest elementary schools but she’s resolutely held to her goal of intentionally connecting with her students and encouraging them as they encourage her.
“In the morning when the kids come in, they will give me hugs and say ‘I missed you so much!’ That encourages me. They’re my own students so I feel connected to them. I like helping them improve their writing and learning about their personalities as I see what they write about. Anytime I get to connect with students and learn something about them is great.”
Working in a setting where you see children struggling with anything from challenging home lives to mental illness can take a serious toll on someone. “You go home and think ‘I hope they’re ok tonight.’ That’s been difficult,” Kyla explains. “I have days where I think, ‘why am I doing this?’ There are times I even consider a change in career but those moments pass and I realize that God truly did lead me here for a reason.”
Despite how hard it can be, Kyla is determined to stay and teach to make the difference for her students—to be like the teachers who inspired her.
“Even just to be a safe place for some of your kids, because you know when they go home it’s not always going to be a safe place. I can provide a place they know they belong. To see improvement is a huge reason why any teacher wants to teach—to see kids who struggle and then finally get something. But I think the biggest thing for me is to see students begin to flourish in a warm, welcoming environment I’ve worked hard to create.”