PIQUA — The Piqua City School District has shown interest in creating a more culturally aware teaching staff to place in their classrooms, and they have hired a candidate for the upcoming year who exemplifies as such.
Julia Hale grew up in Piqua, but her first full-time teaching job started far from home, outside of her comfort zone. She taught kindergarten on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Parker, Ariz., where she gained a lot from her experience.
“It was a culture shock when I first went there,” Hale said. “It wasn’t a Midwest town, it wasn’t a Midwest feel. It was a different feel, in a good way. It was nice to get out of my comfort zone and have a job in a completely different place.”
Hale described the reservation as having a “relaxed feel,” with wide-open space and a river near by that one could go to whenever they wanted. There are casinos in the area owned by different Native American tribes. Hale said there were people from the Midwest and native residents that she got to know.
“It was really neat to meet those people. … I connected with both people from the Midwest and Parker,” Hale said.
Although the school she taught at operated like any other public school, it was her students and colleagues that made her experience there unique. During classroom discussions, she had the opportunity to learn about her students’ lives, such as some Native American students mourn in a Crying Room when there is a death in the family.
Hale also had to learn different cultural cues. When a student gives a teacher direct eye contact, that is generally seen as a sign of respect and that the student is paying attention. Having students of other backgrounds in her classroom, Hale’s Native American students did not give eye contact, as it is taught in their tribe that it is disrespectful to stare in someone’s eyes for a prolonged time.
When Hale held parent-teacher conferences, at many times they started delayed with Native American parents. In Native American culture, the concept of time is very flexible.
“I really got a glimpse into their lives,” Hale said.
When teaching some lessons — such as the well-known story on Johnny Appleseed — Hale said students were not aware of some subjects related to Western culture. Hale also had a rabbit she brought in that her students favored, since the reservation does not see a lot of rabbits.
“It’s just interesting the things that you don’t think about specifically … (the) things they are not really exposed to,” Hale said.
Hale is returning back to her roots after finding out PCS was hiring for the upcoming year. She said she heard all of the great things happening in the district and wanted to be closer to home.
“I just wanted to be a part of those changes happening in the district,” she said. “I’m so grateful that (teaching position) arose.”
As far as what she took away most from her experience as a teacher on an Native American Indian reservation, Hale said it is “appreciating differences and where students are coming from with their culture and background. Not assuming what they know and celebrating that.”