Shirley Burdon
Gladstone Secondary English teacher and SFU alumna

Teaching alum pioneers ‘First Peoples’ course

Gladstone Secondary English teacher and SFU alumna, Shirley Burdon, is pioneering a high school course in Vancouver that introduces a new generation of students to the rich tradition of First Nations literature.

The course, English 12—First Peoples, offers an alternative to the traditional English 12 course,” says Burdon. 

“I often tell interested students that if they’re tired of the old, dead British authors and themes historically offered, they should step into this world and see what they find.” 

Focused on contemporary Native Canadian authors, English 12—First Peoples examines social justice themes and explores local, national and global issues. It draws material from first-year university reading lists, helping students prepare for post-secondary education.

Above all, the course puts First Peoples’ literature and worldviews at the centre of a learning experience that incorporates choice and collaboration in the classroom. 

“The subject matter of the course is edgy and mature,” explains Burdon, a graduate of SFU’s MATE (Master of Arts for Teachers of English) program.

“Students explore universal themes such as identity and conflict—topics that resonate with teenagers regardless of their family background, cultural or religious beliefs or future goals.”

Just halfway through her first year of teaching the course, Burden is already witnessing the engaging power First Nations literature is having on her students.

She hopes their experience will encourage others to take the course so it can be offered in coming years.

The course is the result of a provincial government-sponsored pilot program created by a committee that included high school teachers and SFU educators. The program ran in several B.C. schools five years ago. Similar English 10 and 11 courses have since been developed.

“Right now this course is offered at only a handful of high schools in the Lower Mainland,” says Burdon.

“Interested students should let their teachers and administrators know they’d like to see this course taught at their school. It is student interest that drives learning; they have the power to choose their curriculum.”