Matthew Berrigan, the 2010 winner of Lethbridge College’s Rising Star award came to the campus following a difficult high school career in Black Diamond. Knowing he wanted to be a teacher, but wondering if he had the jam to make it first as a student, he enrolled in General Studies, strategically selecting courses he knew would transfer to the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Education.
Turns out he had jam to spare. Berrigan graduated from General Studies in 2003, from the U of L in 2006, and has taught upper elementary school since.
After two years in Cayley, he moved to Turner Valley School. In 2007, he was Foothills School Division’s nominee for the Edwin Parr Award, a rookie-of-the-year honour and in 2009 he graduated with a Master of Science from the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa.
Wider Horizons: You came to Lethbridge College a little older than the typical high school grad.
Matthew Berrigan: Yes, I was 21. I took some time off after high school, which for me was tremendously difficult. Success in everything I tried was elusive. Lethbridge College was a pivotal year. It was the point at which everything before, nothing had gone right and everything after, everything went right. I settled myself and learned what I wanted to do. Now I feel I can take on any challenge.
WH: What was different about that year?
MB: I was able to refocus. I knew I needed the skills and the confidence to get where I wanted to go, which was social studies education. It has an obscene GPA requirement. In high school, I scored 58 per cent; it was my Everest. Instructors such as Marko Hilgersom and Faron Ellis spent hours with me going over papers and showing me how I could improve. That assistance made possible my success in humanities at the U of L. I left Lethbridge College with the confidence that I could do it, and with the skills to actually do it. That can’t happen in a class of 200 students. I doubt, except formy education professors, any U of L profs remember me.
After seven years, my Lethbridge College instructors still remember my name.
WH: Now that you’re in front of a classroom, with young students, do you incorporate any of their teaching skills?
MB: I hope I do. I certainly aspire to carry into my own teaching role what my college instructors did for me.
WH: Do you see yourself at their age in some of your students?
MB: Every year, there’s one in whom I see myself, one who lacks success socially and academically and whom I see as a shadow of me. I’m drawn to those kids, although when you work with children every day, you’re drawn to all of them. But when I can identify with them, it’s easier to meet their needs, or find other ways in which to relate to them.
WH: You’ve instituted some sports programs at Turner Valley.
MB: Right. I and several other teachers in the area instituted a flag football and a volleyball league. After the football season, we were able to take all the kids to Calgary to play on the turf at McMahon Stadium. It was a real thrill.
WH: What’s the main draw for you to teaching?
MB: It’s the interpersonal connection to the kids and the community and to be able to fulfill a role in their lives. I teach upper elementary, kids who are at a fantastic age – 11 and 12 – who truly feel they can do whatever they set their minds to, from becoming veterinarians to the NHL. It’s my job to foster those big dreams.