SFYou: Beveland-Dalzell siblings

Aaron and Heidi reflect on Alternative schools, the struggles of being a Black educator, and teaching holistically through their core values

Aaron and Heidi wear matching outfits on the day they are working in the same school. Photo courtesy of Ronald Nazal.

Written by: Yelin Gemma Lee, Peak Associate

Alumni featured: 

Name: Heidi Stooshnoff/Heidi Beveland-Dalzell (She/her/hers)

Departmental Affiliation: Bachelors of Science and Biology (2009); Bachelors of Education, minor in Environmental Sciences (2010); Masters of Education in Educational Practice (2020)

Hometown: Coquitlam (traditional unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem First Nations)

Occupation: Math/Science teacher with a specialty in Special Education (SpEd) 

Name: Aaron Beveland-Dalzell (They/them/theirs) 

Departmental Affiliation: Bachelors of Arts, minor in Creative Writing (2019); Bachelors of Education, minor in Curriculum Development (2020)

Hometown: Coquitlam (traditional unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem First Nations)

Occupation: Teacher Teaching On Call (TTOC)

Amidst Covid-19, Aaron Beveland-Dalzell graduated from the Professional Development Program (PDP) and joined their older sister Heidi Stooshnoff in the teaching field as colleagues and co-founders of Black Educators BC (Black Ed). They both aspired to become teachers after being impacted by one during their K-12 years: a pivotal experience that now influences the values they carry into their own classroom. 

“I didn’t love school — I really didn’t like most teachers. I was very aware of the fact that teachers talk about their students, and so once you’re labelled a pain in the butt, that teacher is going to tell the next teacher [ . . . ] and your leash is kept very tight from the beginning,” Heidi recalled. 

“But I had a handful of teachers that didn’t do that to me, and so I think I went back into teaching to make that not the case for other students. I wanted them to know I didn’t care if they were actually a pain in the butt, I would not only like them but appreciate them, [ . . . ] identify with them, [ . . . ] and go to bat for them [ . . . ] That’s why it means so much to me to be a teacher; to be that teacher for other people.”

Aaron recalled a similar experience in grade six, being inspired by the first Black teacher they ever had, after which they began liking school and admiring great teachers.

“It was the first time I had a teacher who saw me — really saw me — and encouraged me to be myself. It changed my life,” Aaron said. 

“When I was subbing in their school, I hunted them down at lunch and we had a heart to heart, which I’ve wanted to say to them for years: [ . . . ] ‘thank you for all of the little things that you did, and all the stuff you put up with [ . . . ] I remember 9/11 because it was the first day you were ever late to class.’ It was the first time I saw a teacher cry, the first time a teacher opened up about their personal life.”

Aaron and Heidi keep these moments at the centre of their own values. 

Heidi currently teaches at Connex Alternative School in Maple Ridge, where she feels empowered to centre human-to-human relationships with students who don’t fit into the boxes of mainstream education. Aaron and Heidi both expressed that the Alternative setting —  which allows the time to invest in one-on-one relationships with students — is much more lenient in structure than mainstream schools and a place where they can best teach by their core values.

 “I think that teachers need to look holistically at students because if somebody is being [challenging], there’s probably a good reason for it,” Heidi said. “Teachers need to understand that behaviour has reason and purpose, and let go of the ego of being an educator. Kids need to be given the chance to be kids: make mistakes, be forgiven, and know that you’re not going to [hold a grudge against them].” 

Although Aaron currently floats around two districts as a full-time teacher teaching on call (TTOC) and experiences different classrooms each day, they also centre their pedagogy (teaching methods) on their core values of authenticity, humility, and compassion. It was their aforementioned teacher, whose authentic expression inspired them to embody their own genuine self. 

Recalling a time they lost their patience in a classroom, Aaron said, “I lost my cool and for that, I can apologize. And by putting myself in that position, I think I encourage other kids to do that too. You’re literally modelling it: show compassion, apologize first.” They added,“[If you] model humility, they’re more likely to [show] it.”

As a non-binary teacher, Aaron introduces themselves with their pronouns at the beginning of class to make themselves visible as a LGBTQIA2S+ ally. This has helped students feel comfortable and they’ve had students ask them for guidance on navigating gender. 

“By being a visible representation for them, I empowered them to step out into the light,” said Aaron. 

Aaron and Heidi co-founded Black Ed, an affinity group for local Black teachers. They recall its conception as a conversation they had during the Black Lives Matter protests, which they summarized as having all their white friends reach out to them and realizing “Oh, I’m everybody’s only Black person.” Both siblings believe it’s an invaluable addition to the teaching community.

“The motto of [Black Ed] is: ‘Connect. Uplift. Empower,” Heidi explained. “[It] is an affinity space for Black [teachers] who are working in a white space. They’re in positions of authority, trying to mold young minds, some of [whom] are also racialized. How do we do this? How do we be true to ourselves? When these things come up in our classrooms, how do we handle them? You just feel ready to engage in ways you might not have [otherwise]. Racial fatigue is a thing that happens, especially in the midst of Black Lives Matter.”

Aaron explained the intergenerational discrimination that happens in schools; their students’ experiences are no different from what they experienced, as well as educators 20 years their senior experienced. 

“[This] affinity space was something I never had before. I made my first Black friend at age 23, and all of my learning how to navigate race basically came from my sister and my mother,” Aaron said. “It’s great to learn how to teach from other teachers, but [to learn] how to be a Black teacher, you have to go to other Black teachers.” 

Aaron stated that they have only ever had two Black teachers, both at the same time, at the same school, in the entirety of their 23 years of education. Heidi affirmed this by revealing that she never even saw a Black teacher, until she became one. Black Ed started out with about 19 members at its founding in June of 2020, but now, only eight months later, has expanded to 77 members.

When asked about how they feel having worked in the same school together on multiple occasions already, they both expressed excitement.

“Working alongside Heidi has been a surreal experience. I’ve literally spent my entire life learning from her,” said Aaron. “Heidi is exactly the kind of teacher I expected her to be: patient, charismatic and sassy. But this has been her first opportunity to see me teach, and I feel a lot of pride teaching in her presence. [ . . . ] There’s nothing quite like teaching alongside your sister and mentor.”

“It’s the best! I’m just so proud of them,” said Heidi. It’s so cool for me to see the teacher that they are already in their baby months of education. I can say at this point in time, nobody understands my context as well as Aaron does. As a Black person in a district, as a young person in a district, as an educator with the same core values [fighting] the same battles that I fought and [having] the same uncomfortable conversations that I’ve had.”