By Jacqueline Louie
Alberta premier Alison Redford’s favourite teacher told her she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.
Jean Czaja, Redford’s Grade 6 teacher at Maple Ridge Elementary School in Calgary, “was a very interesting woman,” Redford recalls. “She was very distinguished. She always dressed beautifully and impeccably. She used to hold us to a very high standard—she always expected more from us. And she was always supportive.”
Redford appreciated that support from her first teacher in Canada. “I had been overseas [and] she seemed to understand it was going to be a tough situation for me.”
Czaja “had a tremendous ability to identify our strengths, to support us and to really get us thinking about what our futures would be,” says Redford. When the class was discussing future careers, “someone stood up and said, ‘When I grow up, I’d like to be this kind of a person.’ Mrs Czaja looked at us all and said, ‘You can already be that kind of a person.’” Redford’s former classmates still talk with one another about their teacher, who got them “to be accountable for our actions and to start thinking about how we wanted to form our future.” Czaja’s encouragement, says Redford, “allowed me to think an awful lot about who I wanted to be when I grew up. She certainly made us all believe that everything we wanted to do was possible.”
Czaja’s professionalism was also a model for Redford. “I was in Grade 6 in 1976. That was a different time,” she recalls. “That was still a time when you could look at a woman who was in a profession, and learn that women could be professionals. … In terms of her professional conduct, the way that she worked, [Mrs Czaja] was someone that I looked up to, because she was an incredibly capable professional woman.”
Czaja, who retired in 1990, remembers Redford as “a brilliant young woman and wise beyond her years.” She says, “[Alison] was really intelligent, self-motivated and a go-getter. She held fairly strong opinions on things. I remember the political ideas she had, which were unusual in one so young. She had aspirations politically—she wanted to be a leader.”
If there’s anything Czaja (who taught in Calgary, Winnipeg, New Orleans and Mississauga) wanted to impart to Redford and her many other students, it was a love of learning. “If you love what you do, success will come easily,” says Czaja, who has stayed busy since her retirement as the founder and artistic director of Westside Children’s Choir in Calgary.
It seems that Redford has taken her former teacher’s advice to heart. A human rights lawyer, she has been active in both provincial and national politics since the 1980s, and she encourages political engagement from students, parents and all Albertans.
“One of the things that’s been so much fun for me in the past year has been to see so many kids who have been engaged in watching the political process. It’s been a lot of fun to go to schools and community events, and see parents and students engaged and thinking about the future.”