ATA Magazine

Homeward bound

In profile

Female teacher at front of the classroom

Lorraine Ridsdale shows her students where hard work can lead

Teaching was not Lorraine Ridsdale’s plan, not at first.

Ridsdale had settled into life in Paddle Prairie, the northern Alberta Métis settlement where she was born. She was a stay-at-home mom for a few years before landing a position as secretary at the local school. She had her family, her job and her home, but she felt that something else was on the horizon.

“I’ve always had this drive inside of me,” she says, “I always felt like I could do something more and was never satisfied, wanting to be better, especially so my kids could be able to look at me and say, ‘I can, too.’”

Ridsdale pursued an early childhood development diploma in Grande Prairie, then returned to Paddle Prairie School as an educational assistant (EA).

Being in the classroom as an EA opened her eyes to what teachers do and the impact they can have on children. Every day, she would watch how the teacher worked with the kids, impressed by her approach 
and by how well the students responded. Then, a switch flicked.

“Looking at what the teacher was doing, 

I thought, ‘I’d like to do that.’”

Away and back again

Just as Ridsdale was ready to take on a new challenge, she learned that two of her colleagues, Jill Gaudet and Martha Ghostkeeper, were thinking about becoming certificated teachers, too. Together, they started 
looking into programs.

“I was procrastinating, dragging my feet on getting in my application,” Ridsdale recalls with a chuckle, “Jill made sure my application got in.”

Indigenous women seated in front of a Pendleton Blanket

Soon, Ridsdale and her colleagues were at Grande Prairie Regional College, now Northwestern Polytechnic, before transferring to the University of Alberta to complete their bachelor of education degrees.

“It was hard being away from home,” Ridsdale concedes, adding that being there with Gaudet and Ghostkeeper “was one of my saving graces during that time.”

After graduating in 1994, Ridsdale — with Gaudet and Ghostkeeper still by her side — returned to 
Paddle Prairie School as a teacher.

It was important for her to be in Paddle Prairie. Having moved in and out of the community as a child, she understood what those students needed.

“When I went away, I left with the intention of returning,” Ridsdale reflects, “I wanted to provide some stability because there is so much turnover at our school.”

Principal Lucas Whittle lauds the continuity and stability Ridsdale has brought to the school.

“Sometimes all it takes is a friendly, familiar face for students to feel safe and comfortable to learn,” says Whittle, “and Lorraine provides that to all of the students in our school, every day.”

Take it with you

After teaching at Paddle Prairie School for nearly three decades, Ridsdale decided to retire from teaching in 2018. But she couldn’t stay away long.

“I wasn’t ready to go out to pasture,” Ridsdale laughs.

Whittle is happy she wasn’t ready.

“Her passion for education and students wouldn’t allow her to stay in retirement,” Whittle says. “When I found out that she was looking for a position again, and that we had one available for her, I was over the moon, as I knew our students would be in the best hands possible.”

Ridsdale’s long-term leadership in the Paddle Prairie School community has not gone unnoticed. She was recently recognized by the Métis Settlements General Council for her outstanding contributions to and achievements in education.

“The contributions that Lorraine has made over her years of teaching are difficult to quantify,” Whittle remarks, “She has been a mentor to countless new and even seasoned teachers throughout the years, including myself. She truly cares for her community and the students and families in it.”

Though she is reluctant to step into the spotlight, 

Ridsdale also recognizes this award as an opportunity to inspire her students to work hard and represent their community well.

“We always want our community to move forward,” 

she says, “Every child I teach, I tell them, ‘You are our future leaders. Whatever you learn in this school or from Elders … you will take with you.’” 

Looking back ... and ahead with Lorraine Ridsdale 

You spent your whole teaching career at Paddle Prairie School. Did you attend the school as a kid? 

Most of my childhood was going back and forth between Paddle Prairie and the south of the province. I actually mostly went to school in Taber, Picture Butte and Iron Springs, and then we’d go back up to Paddle Prairie. 

Sometimes I felt like a transient going back and forth all the time! 

How do you feel about being recognized by the Métis Settlements General Council for your outstanding contributions to education? 

I just worked hard and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I hope that seeing this will bring awareness to our community, our children, teenagers and youth. You just need to get up, do something, work hard and you will get your dues in the end. I’m also grateful to the Northland School Division for their support and the learning opportunities that I received. 

When you reflect on your career, what makes you proud? 

If I could just light that little fire for students to learn something and to be excited about learning, that was it. I’m lucky, I still get to see that excitement every day.  

Retirement didn’t stick. What are your thoughts on retirement now?  

I have a few more years left. When I retire, I want to be able to do so with a clear conscience, knowing I have done all I can for my students. 

Got an idea? In Profile features an interesting teacher in each issue of the ATA Magazine. If you know of a teacher who would be a good profile subject, please contact managing editor Cory Hare at