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Mrs. Cako (Resource teacher)

Mrs. Cako integrates life and learning


Mrs. Cako, the special education teacher at the K-W Bilingual School, is a lifelong learner.


"I love learning new things.  I seem to always be taking courses and have always been thirsty for knowledge and change," says Anne Cako. "And this job really lends itself to that."


Mrs. Cako is not only a teacher at KWBS, she's also a former student. "I started here at the Kitchener Waterloo Bilingual School at three years of age in A class -- which used to be called yellow group - in '88, and continued at the school until Grade 8," she says. "We were the last class to graduate in the old school. My two older sisters also attended the school, so it’s fair to say that KWBS has always been at part of my life."


After graduating from KWBS in '99, Mrs. Cako spent her high school years at St. John's-Kilmarnock in Maryhill. "It too was a smaller school and a great stepping stone," she says. "It was a great experience and, again, one that really pushed for excellence and high standards in education."


With aspirations to work in the field of psychology, Mrs. Cako enrolled at the University of Guelph after high school. "I was 17 years old, and working in psychology was where I thought I was going to end up," she says. "I think a lot of people who want to help others, and who are curious about how people work, go into psychology. But what I realized once I was in the program was, it's very scientific, and I was looking more for how people develop in different ways. So I turned to sociology in my second year and ended up graduating with my degree in sociology. It was a pretty easy transition and much more geared to what I wanted to learn about."


From there, Mrs. Cako set off to Amherst, New York to earn her Master of Science in Education at Medaille College. "Medaille happens to be a French word, which I really loved," says Mrs. Cako with a laugh. "So that was my next step, and from there I haven't stopped taking courses until this summer. Being pregnant, I needed to take a little bit of a break, but this was my first summer without having a course to do."


Prior to teachers college, Mrs. Cako had seriously considered a career in policing. "I wanted to be a police officer, but I didn't know if that was for me as I'm quite sensitive to things. What got me was the fear of going into certain situations," says Mrs. Cako. "But at the same time, I knew I wanted to help and teach people in some way and to make a difference.


"So after university, I got my first teaching job at KWBS. I started teaching French in A class, as I was still deciding between teaching and policing at that point. The school provided me with the opportunity to come in and work that year, and within a few weeks I knew that teaching was what I wanted to do. That's when I signed up for Medaille.”


Coming in for an interview with her former principal, along with former teachers who watched her grow up, was a unique experience. "There I was sitting across from Mr. Poinot and my Grades 3 and 4 teacher Mrs. Strong, along with Madame O'Connor who was my kindergarten teacher. Three people who I've known my whole life," says Mrs. Cako. "And because they already knew me, it was more a matter of discussing what my interests were, my educational background, where I was heading and what would be a good fit for the school. Everything worked out beautifully and I really couldn't have been happier."


In the eight years Mrs. Cako has been teaching at KWBS, she has taught A class French, Grade 7 English, and special education. "I've also taught grade 7/8 gym and health, and worked as the librarian. It really has been exciting," she says. "As a special education resource teacher, I work with students - primarily with Grades 3 to 8, one-on-one or in small groups - requiring extra support in an area. If students need any particular accommodations, we make sure those are put in place. I also work in French with students who are new to our school, preparing them a little bit more for the classroom in order to help them succeed."


When teaching Grade 7, Mrs. Cako strives to engage students through lively discussion. "I want every student who leaves my classroom to know they're important, that what we're learning is something they'll be able to use in the future, and that they can achieve their goals," she explains. "Those are the three things I firmly believe in, and as a teacher you hope that you're making a difference not only inside the classroom, but outside as well."


"Through class discussions, you can see how the Grade 7 students are beginning to become aware of what's going on around them, in their community and around the world, as some of them come in with some really incredible questions. This is where you really see critical thinking and problem solving skills evolve as they begin asking questions like, 'Why aren't we doing something about this?' I think that's what makes teaching this age so special, because you can really connect with them if you keep your eyes and ears open to what interests them - politics, history, science - whatever makes them tick."


The last two years at KWBS for students is a time of tremendous growth and development, both emotionally and intellectually, says Mrs. Cako. "In Grades 7 and 8 the students have the opportunity go to Quebec and to Ottawa, and when they return you can see that they had a great bonding experience," she says. "They also get to use their French while in Quebec and Ottawa which is always exciting for them. When they come back they are asked to reflect on their experience. It's a really nice way for the end of the year to play out as they have operetta, the school trip, and then Grade 8 graduation."


"And it's a very special graduation", says Mrs. Cako. "It is so incredible, as each student is given the opportunity to express what they've learned, what they're thankful for, and how grateful they are to their parents, teachers, and friends. And even though our class sizes have grown over the years, we continue to provide that experience to our students. I believe it helps them realize what they've gone through on their journey at KWBS. I also think it helps the younger students who are watching understand what it really means to be here, as it is such a special school. I don't know of any other place where each student is given a heartfelt introduction from a teacher. Usually, there's a valedictorian, but here every student gets the chance to speak for themselves, and speak to their class, to their parents and to their teachers."


The last few days of school for Grade 8 students are especially emotional ones, she says. "If you stand in the school the day after graduation, you'll find them in tears," says Mrs. Cako. "I think they are aware that everything's going to change. They may not know what the future looks like exactly, but they know they're well prepared and that they have the skills and tools they'll need."


"But it's a very scary thing, because a lot of these kids have been at this school since they were three and four years old. They've been together all that time, so understandably they're feeling anxious. It's such a family here and they know they're safe and that they have a voice. But I think they learn very quickly once they get to high school, even on the first day, that they have all the tools they need in their pocket. But it's still a highly emotional time for them when they graduate from here."


Compassion, caring, and humility are values Mrs. Cako hopes she has helped instill in all her students. "We teach the students how to feel empathy for others, and they learn how we are all different," she says. "No two people learn the same, and it's important for them to understand what kind of learner they are. The more we can empower them with that information, the more they can succeed and meet their goals. And that's my job to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them reach their full potential, while feeling happy and confident about coming to school."


"And it starts very early, as early as kindergarten as we help them to see that everyone has their own strengths and interests. It starts with things like show and tell, which provides them an opportunity to bring in something very special to them and tell the class why. It's also a chance for the other students to learn how to listen, be an attentive audience, and show interest in others."


Mrs. Cako says she cherishes the opportunity she's been given to make a difference in kids lives at KWBS. "I'm here as a resource for them, and every day I want to make the classroom experience a positive one," she says. "And it's so rewarding to see them develop the confidence in themselves and go on to do incredible things."


"For me, learning is life, and I'm hoping to make all my students lifelong learners."


Marshall Ward is a freelance writer and parent at the K-W Bilingual School.