Wyatt Danowski: St John’s Ravenscourt School (2008), Teacher

Posted: 13 March 2023

Wyatt Danowski is a graduate of St John’s Ravenscourt School (SJR) in Winnipeg. He graduated as a “lifer” in 2008 having attended from to Kindergarten through Grade 12. Upon graduation, Wyatt decided that he needed to seek new adventures. “I left the school and I felt that I’d been there virtually my whole life. I’d done with the place.”

The irony is that Wyatt returned as a teacher in 2018. What brought him to that decision over the intervening ten years is a story of exploration and adventure.

Winnipeg is a vibrant but isolated city on the eastern edge of the Canadian Prairie. Even though winter temperatures can drop to -40C, Winnipeggers are fiercely loyal to their city and tend not to stray too far from home. St John’s Ravenscourt was founded in 1820 and is a pillar of the Winnipeg community. The school didn’t join the RS network until 2016, but character and experiential education have always been present on the SJR campus. As a student, Wyatt particularly enjoyed those aspects and took full advantage.

“I remember in Grade 4 we went to Camp Stephens. It’s on an island in Lake of the Woods. It was the first time most of us had been away from home without our parents. I loved it. Then the next year we went to a rock-climbing camp on the Canadian Shield.”

In each of the subsequent years, Wyatt participated in class trips, such as the ski trip to Giant’s Ridge, Minnesota, and he also became involved in Ultimate which saw him travelling with the team to places such as Seattle, Madison, and Atlanta. “I’d never been to the southern US before, so getting off the plane and realising that as Caucasians, we were the minority was an unforgettable experience.” Wyatt went winter camping, sleeping in snow shelters (quinchees), and learning how to survive in the bush.

Wyatt further challenged himself by completing the bronze, silver, and gold levels of the DofE award and taking part in fly-in canoe trips on the remote Bloodvein River in central Manitoba where challenges included inquisitive bears and enthusiastic mosquitoes.

After SJR, most of Wyatt’s school colleagues opted to stay at home and attend the University of Manitoba, but Wyatt wanted to experience something new. The start of the 2008-9 academic year saw him studying journalism at the University of Ottawa. He later changed to History and English and during those years he was bitten by the travel bug.

He began to wonder what career he could find that would allow him to discover more of the world. He opted for education and completed a one-year post-graduate certificate.

“I wanted to get my education career going but I also wanted to test myself and see if this really was the right path for me. I signed up for a two-year posting in the UK and taught at two state comprehensive schools just southwest of London.”

If Wyatt was looking for a challenge, he got his wish. On day one he was told he’d be teaching Religious Knowledge. “It was hilarious because I wasn’t even sure what it was, but I stayed two pages ahead of the students and I certainly learned a lot about classroom management! I broke up a lot of fights that would spill from the hallway into my classroom and there were serious attendance issues for kids. Their parents had never enjoyed school, so why would they? For many of them the limit of their ambition was to work their whole lives at the Tesco across the street.”

Wyatt quickly realised that a big part of being a teacher is establishing relationships and assuming a pastoral role. “I tried to show my students that there were places and jobs outside of the immediate area that they could aspire to, that they didn’t have to fall into the family cycle.”

Later he taught history to A-level and loved it. “In the A-level curriculum, there are so many areas where you can study topics in meaningful detail. I taught units on things as diverse as German reunification and the American West.”

Wyatt was also getting the opportunity to live his dream of travelling. He led field trips to the Vimy Ridge WW1 memorial in France and took geography students to the English Lake District. His two UK schools were also engaged with the DofE program, and it didn’t take his administrators long to realise that Wyatt, as a gold graduate, was a precious resource! He was tasked with planning and running trips and so got to spend many days hiking in the English countryside and building relations with the students.

Wyatt’s second school in the UK was so impressed that they offered to sponsor him for a visa extension, but Wyatt decided it was time for a new adventure.

“I wanted to further build my experience and capacity as a teacher, so I looked for places that were the opposite of the UK and I opted for the Canadian International School in Dalian in NE China.”

Wyatt taught English and History using the British Columbia curriculum thus further developing his skill base. Winnipeg is an ice hockey crazy city, so Wyatt felt right at home joining the CIS hockey team. “We would go to the local villages and play old Chinese men in pick-up games.” There was no ex-pat English-speaking community in Dalian so Wyatt taught himself Mandarin so that he could communicate with the local people.

The cost of living was reasonable in Dalian, and Wyatt was able to use his savings to travel extensively in Southeast Asia. He visited South Korea and took in the Olympics and other destinations included Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Wyatt’s favourite visit was the week he spent in Mongolia.

After three years in Dalian and five years away from home in total, Wyatt received a call from a friend who had graduated with him from SJR. The school was advertising a vacancy for an English teacher. His friend encouraged Wyatt to apply.  Crouched over the communal computer in a youth hostel in the Philippines he uploaded his resume and a few days later, back in China, he found himself being interviewed by three of his old teachers.

“I thought, this is either going to be the best interview of my life or the worst one, but it was just so natural talking to these three people I had grown up with. It was really nice.”

So, the young man who had left Winnipeg with hardly a backward glance returned to his birthplace equipped with new skills and an outlook on life tempered by the adventures that he had chosen for himself over the intervening years. The skills he had learned in his early years at SJR had been augmented by his international adventures and were now put to the service of his alma mater. Wyatt loves his work at SJR where he teaches English and serves as one of the RS Representatives. He is still involved with the DofE and still loves to travel and seek new experiences.

Wyatt was asked to share asked what advice he had for young people such as those he is now teaching.

Try not to simply follow the path that society is pointing you towards. You must find your passion and follow it.

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