Faculty in Focus: Janelle Day, Middle School Science Teacher

The Graded Gazette

You grew up in Vancouver and went to college in Nova Scotia. What are the unique aspects of each of those places? 

The best part of Vancouver is the natural environment. Its mountains offer an abundance of accessible hiking and skiing opportunities. Growing up, I enjoyed snowboarding on weekends. There are some challenging options, but the views at the end make it worth it. There are also gorgeous beaches. Vancouver is a very active community, which I love.

Nova Scotia is different because it is much colder in terms of climate. During my time there, we could get up to five feet of snow, and temperatures could drop down to -20ºC during particularly frigid winters. Some winters were milder than others. When I was in university, my apartment was about a half-kilometer walk from my faculty building, and I was often knee-deep in the snow trying to get to class. 

The people on the East Coast are some of the friendliest and most hospitable in all of Canada. They are just so warm, welcoming, and will help you out with anything if they can. Once in the middle of a blizzard, a taxi driver offered to drive me home at no charge. When I had to leave the dorms, there was no shortage of offers to help me move apartments. Upon graduating with my BEd, my friend’s family threw a party for me, though their daughter wasn't even graduating. They all took me in and treated me like family. Nova Scotia will always have a special place in my heart. 

You started college intending to study medicine. Why did you pivot to teaching? 

In college, I got involved in coaching different sports (volleyball, soccer, and cheerleading) and was really enjoying it. I also had a wonderful mentor who was a specialist in physical education and who helped me realize that coaching was basically like teaching but in a different setting. Working in a school would allow me to do both [teach and coach] and offer a lifestyle that provided time for travel and other activities. Had I gone into medicine, I would have led a very different life with much less time to do the things I love.

Why did you choose to teach abroad, and how did you pick your destinations? 

I knew I wanted to travel, as I had previously spent time in Ghana and loved the experience. There, I worked in an orphanage teaching children subjects including math and English. It was a humbling and life-changing experience. Ghana is an incredibly alive and vibrant country. Music is a massive part of its culture, and I would often see people of all ages dancing in the streets. The people there were so friendly, welcoming, and happy.

Surprisingly, I was the only person in my graduating class to explore international teaching. In January 2015, I spun a globe with my eyes closed and put my finger on Iraq—so I decided to search for jobs primarily in the Middle East. Eventually, I had the choice between a job in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Not really knowing the difference between the two countries, I picked Kuwait because I thought the school would be a better fit for me. 

When I left Kuwait, I decided to come to Brazil because I had some colleagues already teaching at Graded. It was exciting to think about moving somewhere where I already had a few connections.

What was it like living and working in Kuwait? 

It was a great first experience teaching abroad. The culture was quite different, but I was curious about exploring a new part of the world. I remember being awoken at 4:00 am my first night in Maidan Hawally by the call to prayer from the mosque near my apartment. As a Muslim country, Kuwait is culturally quite conservative. Women have to dress modestly, which took some getting used to. 

Kuwait is very small, and I lived among both expats and Kuwaitis. The country is a desert, and everything there is sand-colored and very, very dry. Sometimes in the summer, it can get up to 50ºC. People in Kuwait respond well to foreigners, and it is a very wealthy country.

It was easy to travel from Kuwait, so I had the opportunity to visit several countries. My travel highlights included Uganda, Tanzania, Georgia, Thailand, Oman, and Jordan. 

I worked with some amazing people at the school, so I learned a lot in my first few years and grew as both an educator and leader. In my third year there, I moved from a teaching role into a leadership position as the head of the Science Department for grades 6-12. 

I formed a solid group of friends and felt accomplished in my work; it was a wonderful period in my life. I lived in Kuwait for five years, and though I enjoyed it tremendously, I was ready to move on when I did. I still keep in touch with many people from there. 

You are currently working towards a master’s in education. Tell us a bit about your studies and your thesis.

I am currently researching how white teachers perceive racial inequities in international schools. In what ways do they see racial injustice? What are some of the inequities that they've witnessed? Are they able to name them? To what level is the inequity understood?

I have always been interested in social justice. I had previously researched women in sports, so I saw this topic as a new angle that would allow me to learn more about other groups that encounter discrimination.

You are a soccer coach at Graded. What do you enjoy most about being a coach, and how does coaching relate to teaching? 

I have been playing soccer since I was eight years old. I played at the highest level for my age group throughout my teenage years. I also played volleyball both at school and recreationally, but I chose soccer when I had to choose between the two sports. I continued playing soccer at university until an injury forced me to stop. 

At Graded, I coach JV Girls Soccer. As a coach, I love helping student-athletes develop the skills, discipline, and teamwork required for their success on and off the field. I ensure students know that school comes first and that I expect them to finish their homework, projects, and studying before they come to practice. I check in with teachers to ensure my athletes represent our team well in class. The girls know their behavior will impact their game time; we talk explicitly about that. I am tough on them, but I see how much they have grown in the past two years as a result. Sports are about much more than just winning. 

Do you have any favorite spots on campus?

My favorite spot on campus is the gym. I am there every morning, bright and early. Having easy access to such a large, open facility with so much equipment is special.

Aside from that, I stay inside my classroom a lot. I love my space and appreciate the time I have to plan and prepare for upcoming learning experiences when I'm not with a class. When I feel the need to leave my classroom, I look for a hammock in the Graded Greens or head to the field and work in the stands. I love the opportunity these spaces give me to catch up with my former students and stay connected with them. 

Tell us about your scuba diving hobby (and your recent trip to Fernando de Noronha)!

I have been scuba diving since 2019, when I first got my Open Water Diver (up to 18m) and Advanced Open Water Diver (up to 30m) certifications in Dahab, Egypt. My friend had convinced me to try it, but I was initially hesitant because I had difficulty relaxing underwater. Now, I am much more comfortable and enjoy diving in different areas of the world (I’ve dived in Egypt, Malaysia, Mexico, and Brazil). 

I most recently went diving in Fernando de Noronha with some Graded colleagues, and, despite the weather not being great, the diving conditions there were excellent. The visibility was good, and there was an immense variety of wildlife. It was warm, the currents weren't too strong, and the dive sites were diverse. I can only imagine what it would have been like if the weather had been better! In Fernando de Noronha, you see turtles, sting rays, sharks, maybe some octopuses, and plenty of other forms of wildlife. 

What would people be surprised to learn about you? 

The skill I acquired during the pandemic was learning how to bake sourdough bread. After a year of making dense, hard bricks of water and flour, I have finally figured out how to make a decent loaf! 

My mom is really into baking bread, and she was the one who got me interested. I inherited my sourdough starter from her, and it’s about four years old now. One issue I had, though, is that the flour in Brazil is different from the flour back home, so there were a lot of failed attempts!

How did you adapt to life in Brazil? 

When I arrived in Brazil, I definitely felt a bit of linguistic culture shock. Because we worked from home during the pandemic, nearly all of the people I interacted with daily (porteiros, grocery store clerks, etc.) spoke solely Portuguese. Initially, I couldn't really communicate. I decided that I needed to learn the language to live a full and comfortable life here; so I did. Learning Portuguese was by far my greatest challenge. However, now I feel as if I can really take advantage of all that Brazil has to offer.