One Month in Mistissini

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been living in Mistissini for one month. The time has simultaneously flown by and dragged on as I’ve laboriously navigated the past four weeks of teaching in this remote community.

For those of you who have been praying for me, I am incredibly grateful and I sincerely thank you; I have felt your prayers. They have given me the patience, strength and wisdom to get back in the fight every time I’ve been emotionally and mentally knocked down, and honestly, that has happened nearly every single day.

The first week here was definitely the most challenging week of my five years of teaching. Thankfully, things have been slowly improving with each passing week, only marginally, but it’s progress and I’m very thankful for every small victory. Here are some updates for those who wish to join me for this ambitious adventure.


The class:

In my last update, I shared that my co-teacher, Dom and I were cracking down on discipline in the classroom and asked for your prayers. As we expected, this has been a minute by minute struggle since many of the students don’t experience discipline or face consequences of any kind in their daily lives.

With much painstaking consistency, they are slowly coming to realize that we mean business and that their disruption, defiance, and disrespect will not be tolerated in our classroom. Sadly, this has meant that we have already put one student in the alternate suspension program and we are currently working on doing the same for two to three others. Our goal is always inclusion, but when their behaviour is preventing other students from learning and preventing us from teaching, placing them in an alternate program for a period of time ends up being best option for all involved.

Aside from the eight to ten students who are consistently wreaking havoc in class, I have seen a improvement overall. Dom and I been able to establish a clear routine and consistent expectations and it seems to be helping a lot. We are also meeting with our students one on one to build rapport and get to know them better. There is much work yet to be done in order to foster a safe learning environment for these students, but the wheels are slowly turning and we are committed to seeing this through.

The hardships:

I have been experiencing a lot of stress due to the chaos that surrounds me every day. The behaviour of the students is absolutely appalling at best and violently abusive at worst. I have been struggling to prevent this stress from manifesting itself physically.

Here are a few things I’ve dealt with over the past three weeks.

  • One of my students  didn’t want to be in detention so she screamed at me, flipped her desk over, and left the class, slamming the door very loudly behind her.
  • I tried to break up a bullying incident between two 11 year olds at recess. One girl had the other pinned up against a brick and was yelling at her within an inch of her face. I had to think fast and tried to de-escalate the situation as best I could but the girl wasn’t responsive, blinded by her anger. Thankfully another teacher saw what was happening and came to help me. Sadly, even with the two of us intervening, the aggressor was able to violently punch the other girl in the face. I couldn’t help but feel responsible; I wasn’t able to save the girl from her assailant’s rage.
  • Several boys from my sixth grade class were involved in beating up another boy in fifth grade. The boy who was injured was lured behind the grocery store by a girl and was bullied and attacked by 7-10 other students. We are starting a school-wide anti-bullying campaign because things are getting increasingly violent at our school and students are getting hurt.

On top of these larger incidents, I am disrespected, degraded and defied every single day by the students at the school. Whether it is students talking back, making snide remarks in Cree, teaming up against me, pushing chairs and desks aggressively in frustration, or simply refusing to do what is being asked of them, each day is a struggle. It is no wonder that several teachers from this community have had to take mental health leave. As you can imagine, these incidents are very emotionally draining and I am completely exhausted at the end of the day.

The Highlights:

Thankfully, it’s not all bad! There were a few noteworthy silver linings from the last three weeks.

  • I got an unexpected hug from a girl who has been quite defiant since I first got here.
  • We had a long, positive talk with one of our boys about his choices and his future. He is facing a lot of peer pressure to be ‘cool’ and part of a local gang and we hope that every ounce of truth we speak into his life will help him avoid choosing the wrong path.
  • I had a productive conversation with a difficult student’s mother and it was so encouraging to ascertain that we are on the same page in wanting her daughter to succeed at this school.
  • I attended the Anglican church last Sunday (one of two English speaking churches here) and it was a lovely service.
  • I’m slowly but surely getting into a routine with my teaching  and moving beyond the most challenging part of what has proven to be a steep learning curve.

I’ve also been able to explore the community and the culture a little bit more. The local lodge is hosting a free dinner from Monday – Wednesday for the next few weeks. I was able to attend last Wednesday and it was such an enriching experience. It was my first time eating moose stew and it was delicious!

I was also able to do some craft sewing and even tried my hand at wood carving (it wasn’t for me as the carving tools were very sharp and difficult to use properly, my wrist was cramping!) Hearing one of the elders bless the food in Cree before we ate brought tears to my eyes. There is something so innately serene and profoundly beautiful about this culture; I am so honoured to be able to experience it first-hand living in this community.

Prayer requests: 

  1. Please pray for my health as I have been experiencing migraines and stomach issues from the stress that I have been facing on a daily basis.
  2. Please pray for Dominique and myself as we strive to find the right balance of love and firmness for our students. Pray also for unity as we get to know each other better and create a thriving teaching partnership.
  3. Please pray for my students that God would soften their hearts and allow them to see us as allies and confidants who love them.
  4. Please pray for the families in this community. I sense that there are many strongholds here including addictions, neglect, and a poverty mentality. Please pray that these strongholds would be broken in Jesus’ name and that this community would be transformed for His Glory!

Thank you so much, friends! ❤ Your prayers and support mean more to me than you know. If you want to write me a letter, here’s my mailing address:

Natasha Spiers
368 Mistissini Blvd., Apartment B,
Mistissini, Quebec, G0W 1C0

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