From Inner-City Support Worker to Inspirational Teacher

April 17, 2024

The journey of Ashley Bodnar (PLP, BEd as a Second Degree, 2012) illustrates the continuous evolution of an educator's teaching enviornment, from her initial role as a student support worker to her current position as an experienced teacher. 

Ashley's path to teaching began while working in an inner-city school in the Downtown Eastside. "It was there that I discovered my desire to become an educator and make an impact," she recalls. This setting, fraught with challenges, highlighted the considerable influence educators can have on their students and communities. In addition, the development of meaningful collaborations and relationships emerged as Ashley's cornerstone of effective teaching. "Although I had always felt a pull towards teaching, it wasn't until my experience at this particular school that I realized this was my calling."

Ashley first heard about the Professional Linking Program (PLP) through a colleague and was inspired to pursue her dream. "The program caught my attention because it was designed to fit my schedule, and it valued my background as a paraprofessional," says Ashley, “This made it stand out from other Teacher Education programs offered at different universities." 

The PLP is unique in that enables paraprofessionals to get certified as teachers in B.C. while continuing to work. PLP students can also complete a Bachelor of Education (BEd) as a second degree without adding extra time or cost to the program, a path Ashley pursued.

Explore our various upcoming teacher education programs, including the PLP, to find out how to launch your teaching career

Ashley's SFU experience had the advantage of small class sizes and a strong sense of community, facilitating deep engagement and reflection. However, this journey was not without its obstacles. "The main challenge I faced was balancing the demands of working multiple jobs while attending university," Ashley reflects. "Without access to a vehicle, I had lengthy commutes on public transit. I tried to make the most of these bus rides by using the time to study." Despite these challenges, Ashley persevered and set out to complete the program.

While in the program, Ashley discovered a fresh perspective on teaching and learning, exemplifying the impactful teaching methods Ashley aspired to incorporate into her teaching style.  

"One math class forever changed my perspective on math. The course was built around a play-based learning approach, encouraging us to solve problems collaboratively. It was fun and engaging, exposing me to various strategies and methods of working with numbers. My confidence in math soared, and I began to see the subject in a new light. I had previously convinced myself that I was not good at math, a mindset I have discovered is quite common among students. Inspired by this realization, I set a goal to help students develop a love for math, just as I had. To this day, math remains one of my favourite subjects to teach."

Ashley credits her bachelor's degree as part of the PLP for setting her up for career success. "After graduating, I returned to my role as a student support worker, but by October, I had transitioned to working as a Teacher on Call," she explains. This moment was particularly poignant as it brought her journey full circle, returning to the school that had initially inspired her teaching career. 

Reflecting on her evolution as an educator since graduating from SFU in 2012, Ashley notes the significant transformation in her teaching environment and philosophy.

"As a support worker, I learned a lot just by watching. I noticed what worked and what did not, thinking about what I would do in my classroom. When I finally became a teacher, I was excited to try out new ways of teaching, including inquiry-based learning, that focused on asking questions and exploring together. Even though it was something few teachers were doing [at the time], I took it on as a challenge. Over the years, I kept making it better, bit by bit. This time shaped me as a teacher. I started making decisions with a clear goal, based on what I believe is most important in school. Externally, my teaching environment provided opportunities for me to observe and adapt, while internally, my teaching philosophy began to take shape. My classroom became a space where collaboration, inquiry, mindfulness, and building core competencies were not just goals but the pillars of everything we did."

Ashley aims to be her students’ “forever cheerleader,” imparting knowledge and instilling a profound sense of potential and capability. This vision is deeply rooted in the relationships she cultivates with them—connections that last well beyond their time in her classroom. "One of my absolute favourite feelings is when former students get in touch to share updates about their lives," she recalls. “Hearing about their adventures in high school, college, and careers is incredibly rewarding. I am grateful that they trust me enough to share with me, even after so much time has passed.”

Ashley Bodnar's story is not just about her journey as an educator; it is a narrative of passion, and the profound impact teachers can have on the lives of their students. Her commitment to fostering meaningful relationships, embracing challenges, and continuously evolving her teaching practices can serve as inspiration for current and aspiring educators alike.

"Here's a picture of me, taken after a decade of pouring my heart into Henderson Elementary. I did not know what I was doing when I first stepped into this space. However, I was driven and committed to being the best educator I could be and embraced learning alongside my students. This photo captures the culmination of countless inquiry projects, guiding my students in raising thousands for charities, being a part of an incredibly supportive and collaborative team, earning my master's degree, and teaching hundreds of amazing students. This space inspired my upcoming book about implementing core competencies in the classroom, something I cannot wait to share."