The Magazine of Meadowridge School

Challenge Accepted

As a young graduate, Ms. Carrie Mohoruk got the news every young graduate hopes for. Unfortunately, it was the news one hopes for… not to happen.

The government issued a hiring freeze, restricting any new teachers from entering the field and any with less than five years’ experience to be laid off. Of course, this development changed things for Ms. Mohoruk, whose focused shifted from crossing the stage at graduation to crossing the globe straight after. She never intended to work internationally, but Ms. Mohoruk is the first to confess she’s not one to back down from challenge; in fact, she embraces it. Challenge, you’ll soon learn, is what has guided her throughout life.

Ms. Mohoruk was never quite sure what she wanted to do when she grew up. As early on as high school, she grappled with what she might like to be: she loved art—she considered studying at Emily Carr for a time—and she was drawn to first architecture, and then geophysics, before settling on chemistry and earth sciences upon her eventual enrollment at the University of Victoria.

Looking back, Ms. Mohoruk admits teaching was probably always in her future. Her penchant for helping others “figure it out” was longstanding. Even as a child herself, she coached, tutored, and minded after other kids. Come high school, she assumed the role as the unofficial, token tutor of her friends’ group. Ms. Mohoruk laughs, remembering, “My friends came to tell me afterwards: you’re the only reason I passed!”  

Still, none of these cues helped her to realize the inevitable. It wasn’t until finishing her first degree—a combined honours in chemistry and earth sciences—through a chance encounter and a casual enquiry, that Ms. Mohoruk stumbled into teaching.

Like most young undergraduates, Ms. Mohoruk was looking for a job. While wandering the halls, she happened upon one of her favourite teachers, her head laboratory instructor. She was a student who stood out—she asked lots of questions during labs, and didn’t shy from discussion or sharing her thoughts—and, true to her nature, she asked simply: “Dave, got a job for me?”  He did, and he hired her on the spot as his Laboratory Assistant. So began the start—the official, paid start, anyways—of Ms. Mohoruk’s career as an educator.

As a lab assistant, she did the usual: designed and prepared experiments, reviewed materials with groups, and helped out wherever needed. She loved it, but what really drew her in was helping people figure out the tricky stuff. She liked the challenge of breaking down the most convoluted into the most comprehensible. “I realized it was helping people much more than the science part of things, and I knew to go into teaching from there,” Ms. Mohoruk affirms.

Then, after completing the teachers’ Professional Development Program, she was faced with an unfavourable fortune: the hiring freeze. This presented a small challenge for Ms. Mohoruk, who planned to teach locally... or a least provincially. Nevertheless, Ms. Mohoruk didn’t hesitate, and just a few short weeks after graduating, she found herself 8,000-kilometres away in Mishima, Japan. Ms. Mohoruk remembers this first night well, and is quick to laugh at her eagerness. “Here I was, all by myself, and I wasn’t worried whatsoever,” she smiles. “I showed up at this tiny, tiny train station in the middle of the night, waiting for this random guy to come pick me up.”

Ms. Mohoruk settled into her new role quickly, teaching English to a class of two, three, and four-year-olds. She enjoyed it, but was piqued by a serendipitous encounter with a friend’s father, who was teaching Diploma Programme (DP) Chemistry at another school. When she was eventually offered a position at a neighbouring school in Numazu, Ms. Mohoruk’s first question was one we’ve all had at one point or another: “What is the Diploma Programme?

Her introduction to the Diploma Programme was a crash-course. After accepting the role, she soon learned she was the only English-speaking chemistry teacher at the school, and that her predecessor wouldn’t offer much help, as he had promptly moved out of country following his resignation. What she walked into was a bit of a mess.

My time as an English-Learner chemistry teacher has been the basis of how I teach chemistry all these years later… teaching language through content, but also constantly pushing you to re-think how to teach.

It was a traditional Japanese school, and the headmaster decided to offer the MYP and DP, dedicating one wing of the school to the entire bilingual program. When Ms. Mohoruk started, her very first task was to track down all of her student’s missing Internal Assessments, which had disappeared into the night. After some poking around, she finally found them… in Europe. As it turns out, the teacher before her had accidently packed them up and brought them on their move. Ms. Mohoruk smiles, “And that is how I began teaching the DP.”

She picked it up quickly. Teaching chemistry and math in English to native Japanese speakers offered Ms. Mohoruk the environment in which she thrived; it was the ultimate challenge. “It was clear you couldn’t just write notes on the board and hope the class would understand,” Ms. Mohoruk explains. “My time as an English-Learner chemistry teacher has been the basis of how I teach chemistry all these years later… teaching language through content, but also constantly pushing you to re-think how to teach.”

She introduced labs to the school. There was limited lab equipment, safety gear, or glassware; Ms. Mohoruk riffled through old, packed-away stock and got to work ordering what she needed. Of the chemicals that were available, they were all labeled in Japanese. After translating each of the labels, she made a second, unfortunate discovery: all the waste from the lab drained into a pond right outside the classroom. So, Ms. Mohoruk was tasked anew, pouring out the toxic chemicals and re-writing the labs for less toxicity. When the day finally came for her class’ first lab, teachers and other students lined up outside, peeking in through the glass: “They were fascinated by it,” Ms. Mohoruk explains, “They had never seen someone actually using equipment or wearing safety goggles.”

In just one year, she took on two additional roles at the school: University Counsellor and DP Math Teacher. When Ms. Mohoruk wasn’t developing labs, learning the DP, or helping her students grasp math, chemistry, and the post-secondary process, she was jetting off to university fairs and meeting university representatives.

 

After three successful years, she was ready to come home.

After some searching, she saw a posting for a senior chemistry teacher in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. “I had never heard of Maple Ridge,” Ms. Mohoruk, a Penticton native, confesses. Nevertheless, she decided to apply, and was excited when she got a call back. “My interview was at five in the morning my time,” she laughs, “Thankfully, it was just over the phone.” After recounting her busy workload, her interviewer—Headmaster Mr. Hugh Burke—was incredulous. “He asked me what I did for fun,” Ms. Mohoruk recalls, laughing; “I told him: professional development.”

She got the job.

Ms. Mohoruk arrived to Meadowridge School in the fall of 2006 and has been a staple in the science and math faculties ever since. To this day, no matter what subject, or what unit, she remains focused on one thing: helping kids figure out the tricky stuff.

For her, the aim is equipping students with the knowledge and skills to understand and evaluate the world around them: “There has never been a more critical time for us to understand science,” Ms. Mohoruk stresses, “Which is also ideal, because we can use examples from all realms of life: the use of fluoride in our water, of medical treatments and vaccinations, of the foods we eat and the chemicals in them…” Ms. Mohoruk brings in advertisements, product labels, articles, and more: “As a science teacher, I want students to walk out of my classroom and be able to make valid judgements—there’s so much hooey out there!”

Students in her classes learn to look at things critically, to ask is this valid? is this not? how can I tell? “That’s been a constant,” Ms. Mohoruk explains, “I always figure out where something applies in life and why it’s important.” Another constant? Making things fun.

If you walk into Ms. Mohoruk’s room, you’ll see how: if there’s an opportunity to bring humour or fun to science or math, she’s taking it. She has power point slides with different themes, and the first to guess it correctly wins a prize; she finds silly videos, songs, and tacky slides; she has posters, comics, and novelty items all around the room – “I trick them into caring that way,” she laughs, looking around her. “Even if their eyes are wandering and not listening to my lecture, they’ll have something to ponder… a quote they don’t agree with or a funny poster.” Very few people love Chemistry, Ms. Mohoruk is quick to acknowledge, and she is intent on changing that.

During her seven-year tenor as the Sciences Department Head, Ms. Mohoruk worked to bring this approach to the entire continuum. She is committed to preparing students for what’s next, and is forever reading and researching to find out what that may be.

Students in her classes learn to look at things critically, to ask is this valid? is this not? how can I tell? “That’s been a constant,” Ms. Mohoruk explains, “I always figure out where something applies in life and why it’s important.” Another constant? Making things fun.

After an alumnus shared with her that mentorship would have helped him in medical school, Ms. Mohoruk instituted the PYP Crew, a club for DP students to tutor younger students. After recognizing the impact of interdisciplinary learning, she brought the sciences—biology, chemistry, physics, and design—together, finding opportunities for cross curricular projects and activities. After an investigation into the STEM programs, she realized students needed to find their passions for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math much earlier, so she founded the First Lego League, a robotics club, and worked to equip each PYP classroom with a microscope and other science equipment. Just last year, she also oversaw the first Raspberry Pi Club, where students learned to code on small computers.

No matter the challenge, Ms. Mohoruk meets it simply. She is the first to admit that of the many projects she instigates, she is not the expert. “I don’t have a background in coding or programming, but the students here needed it; somebody needed to jump,” she explains. “So I did. I thought you know what? Let’s do it.” 

Challenge accepted.


Ms. Mohoruk from an Alumn's Perspective
Catching up with Mark Chen '16

When we caught up with Mark, he was nowhere near Chicago. In fact, he was over 12,000 kilometres away, working at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Mark has accepted two summer positions, working as an archivist research intern at the university’s art museum, as well as a lab intern in one of the physical chemistry labs. We called him bright and early, at 7 o’clock in the morning over in China, to hear about why he nominated Mrs. Mohoruk for this prestigious award.

Nominations for this award are completely voluntary. What made you write the essay?

It’s not required, no. I got the email [from the University of Chicago], and I knew I wanted to submit a nomination. Mrs. Mohoruk changed my outlook, she wrote my recommendation letter, and she deserved that extra effort from me to write the essay. I saw it as a way to say thank you.

What was Mrs. Mohoruk like as a teacher?

She dedicated so much, she was available whenever you needed it. Chemistry is a hard subject to understand on your own, but she takes the extra effort for you to understand. Instead of just using the textbook, she basically wrote her own textbook. Whenever I had a question, she would answer. She would write back at five in the morning. One time, we were learning something tough—I don’t remember what it was, exactly—but I was doing everything to figure it out and couldn’t. I stayed after school and asked her questions, and she wouldn’t give up until I understood. I asked her questions until five thirty that day.

What made her teaching approach so unique?

She’s smart. She has a good sense of humour—she bakes cookies on National Mole Day! There are so many things she taught me. Chemistry isn’t very intuitive sometimes, and she’d always explains things to me step-by-step. She wouldn’t give up until you understood. She’d try different ways, alter her approach, and she’s very good at doing it… I knew if I had a question I could get it answered. She also made a lot of informal labs, which lets you learn concepts so much better. She does a lot of research to make these labs, and she makes the extra effort. I do labs now in university which are basically the labs Mrs. Mohoruk designed for us in Grade 12.

Was it Mrs. Mohoruk who encouraged you to study chemistry in university?

I was always—or I thought I was—more of a liberal arts student, but I was mainly involved in lots of math contests in school. Because of that, teachers encouraged me to study Math. Mrs. Mohoruk never tried to push me into any one thing. She would always encourage me to learn, even if it wasn’t related to chemistry.

How has your first year of university gone? It’s been amazing, but it was stressful in the beginning.

The IB definitely helped me to adapt, and I was ready for the work-load. I am doing a double major in Chemistry and History. I’m in an ancient texts reading group. I am also working regularly, too; I teach Spanish immigrants, helping them to prepare for the American Immigration Test. Things are going really well. I’ve made new friends, and we explore Chicago together. Chicago is very multi-ethnic, and we go and explore the different parts of the city. Things like that.

History and Chemistry is a very interesting choice in a double major; what do you plan to do with your degree?

I’m not sure, but I know I want to remain in the academic circle, whether it’s teaching or research. I’m not sure.

When you’re helping people study for the Immigration Test, do you borrow any of Mrs. Mohoruk’s teaching styles?

Being patient, certainly. I try to create activities so people do things; I approach it that way.

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