Pauline’s Story: From Basic Education Student to Superintendent of Education

Pauline’s is the last student story for this academic year. Hers is the closing chapter in our nine month series of remarkable stories on the theme of transformative learning and adult literacy & basic education.

We began early last fall with an overview of what transformative learning is by Dr. Patricia Cranton. Patricia also explained why this emerging theory of learning matters so much to adult education practice. Then, with fingers crossed, we invited students and faculty to submit their own stories and asked them to reflect on the possibility that they may have experienced transformative learning. Besides informed consent approvals, we sent them a set of descriptive guidelines to help them write their story. 

With a huge thanks to the instructors and counsellors in the colleges and Polytechnic who encouraged their learners to share their stories, we first received stories from students describing transformative incidents on how and why they chose to come to basic education.  Then, after Christmas, we received stories on the transformative impact the program had on them. We have seen how instructors, counsellors, the peer group and the very realization of  academic success changed often their view of themselves and their world.  And, significantly, most of the decisions to come to basic education and the life-changing experiences in the programs, were triggered by what Dr. Jack Mezirow and Dr. Patricia Cranton had  termed, “disorienting dilemmas”  early last fall.  We also had one story from a practitioner, Brenda Wright, who described her life changing transformative learning when she taught her first class of adult basic education.

 And now, with a special thanks to Jacqueline Bruce who encouraged her, here is Pauline Muskego’s story of how she went from an early school leaver to a superintendent of schools at Onion Lake First Nation. This success story  seems so appropriate to end off this series. The concluding June installment will focus on “Lessons Learned” from this series; but,  for now, we again thank all of the students and their instructors and counsellors who made this fascinating series possible.

We hope you enjoyed the journey as much as we did and we also hope the series has shed some new light on our learners and the powerful, transformative impact our field so often has on those who participate in it with us.

Dr. Allan Quigley and the SARN Team


Pauline’s Story: From Basic Education Student to Superintendent of Education

I quit school in Grade 11.  My late father had a big influence on me back then.  He saw education in a different light.  Providing for his family was his priority.  I think education to him was a luxury, especially for women.  Women were meant to look after the home, cooking, cleaning, etc.  That was the mentality back in the day.  Life was hard.  So when I announced that I was quitting school, it wasn’t an issue.

Both my parents were hard workers.  My father was a WWII veteran who fought for this country.  My mother held labour jobs in the town of The Pas.  I went with her a lot of the time and worked alongside her.  She taught me what work ethic meant.   I was just a kid, but I will always remember how hard my mother worked to help put food on the table.  My father provided for the family as a hunter and a fisherman.  He lived off the land to provide for us.  Both my parents showed me the importance of hard work.

I later realized that one can’t get very far in in life with a limited education background. I saw that some of my friends were moving forward in their education, graduating from grade 12, going into post-secondary and getting jobs.  I think deep down I knew that education was the answer, the key.

I decided to enrol in a College program that only required a grade 10 education.  I took a six-month Clerk-Typist Course that enabled me to receive employment.  I attended school at Keewatin Community College in The Pas, Manitoba.  It is now UCN, University College of the North, I think.

After that, I worked for a year and a half at the Band Office for what was then called The Pas Indian Band, but it is now known as Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Coming to Saskatchewan & a Husband’s Influence

When my older sister invited me to move to Saskatoon with her, I jumped at the opportunity to open my horizons.  This is where I met my future husband.  We married in 1978.  He was attending university and I worked at various jobs in the city.  I used to edit his university level papers for him. All I knew was when I read through his papers, I could spot errors.  I would correct them for him.  When he saw that I had an eye for this, I became his editor. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. He was my big motivator to go back to school.  He was the one who encouraged me. After he finished his education degree, we moved to Onion Lake.  This is where I started my pursuit of further education.

I attended a four-month upgrading program that was to eventually lead to a diploma in Business Administration. This course was offered on Reserve in Onion Lake.

“When You Come From A Struggling Family…”

When I first started upgrading, we had to take a pre-test to see where we should begin upgrading.  I scored at the university level in reading and comprehension.  In math, my score was not so great.  I scored at a grade 5 level.  This was very accurate as this was the grade when I got sick with tonsillitis and missed a lot of school. Back in the day, a person was in the hospital for a week.  Today, you are in for 1 day. There is such a big difference between then and now.  I also missed school if I didn’t have clean clothes.  When you come from a struggling family, there are many factors that keep you away from school.   Missing school led to my not understanding math very well.

I Realized That I Wasn’t “Dumb”

It wasn’t until upgrading that I finally understood integers, decimals, fractions, etc.  After finishing upgrading, I wrote a post-test and scored around grade 10.5 in Math.  I also attained a Grade 12 standing. It was like a light bulb came on in my head.  It was then that I realized that I wasn’t “dumb.”  Previous to this, I believed that I couldn’t learn Math.  Math was the biggest stumbling block for me.  I realize now that I had learning gaps.  Once those gaps were filled, I was able to move forward in my learning.

As I had said earlier, my husband saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.  He encouraged me to apply for University, the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan.  When I received my letter of acceptance, I couldn’t believe it.  I was going to University!

I finished the four-year degree program in 3.5 years.  After teaching for 5 years as the Business Education teacher here in Onion Lake, I decided to pursue my Masters degree, which I received in 1995.  Knowing that I had the capability to take control of my own learning was transformative for me.  After attaining a B.Ed., I realized that I had the potential to receive an M.Ed.  It was not easy, but attainable.

Since then, Onion Lake Education has given me the opportunity to work as Vice Principal, Principal, and presently, Superintendent of Education.

Barriers Can Be Transformed Into Challenges

Barriers can be translated into challenges.  Challenges can also be opportunities.  Opportunities can become achievements.  When I look back, I would say that life itself can be challenging.  Having my children at an early age and realizing that I am a role model to them made me aware that what I did with my life was a way for them to see what they can do with their own lives.

Whenever I have an open door of opportunity to talk with young people about life, I take it.  Now and then, young people drop by my office and this is when I speak to them.  By being a role model for them, I can show them that they can achieve their dreams.

Pauline Muskego

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