I got back so much more than I ever gave….
It was early August 1981. My youngest daughter was turning one and my eldest had just turned three. Mommy was sitting at the old EPSB personnel office across from where the Brick used to be downtown. Waiting. Waiting. I had excellent interviews in the Spring and was told I was “la crème de la crème” by then Personnel Officer, Milt Halverson. But, it was August, and I still did not have a position, so I packed my daughters into my car, picked up my mom and drove to the office planning to stay however long it took until I was employed. This was a year when new teachers were not being hired, but, somehow, it worked.
I left that day with two half-time positions and an FTE offer to work for Edmonton Public Schools. I cried. I was gainfully employed. I wanted to be a teacher since my first day in grade one, and now I am one.
That first year was not easy. But, it was a gift. A good friend took care of my babies and I could be happy that they were loved and rejoice during the drive home every night where we would sing all the way home. The two schools were like night and day and built a firm foundation for my future as a teacher of precious children. That year I saw despair in the eye of a five-year-old. I saw hopelessness in the eyes of some parents. It was a whole new world opening up to me and I was just beginning to understand the magnitude of my work. I was committed. I had found my calling.
The following two years I worked teaching grades one and two in a school newly annexed to the city. I felt as if I had gone back 50 years in time walking through that school, compared to the ones I had just come from. But, I was eager to do the work. Excited about the opportunity. My mother brought my babies out for party days and my students loved to see them. This was a tight-knit community and the parents were very supportive. My classes were small and we grew very close during those two years. I cried when I decided to leave, but it was time.
And, one of my students followed me to La Perle, a new school just opening in the city at that time. I was there for five years. I haven’t stayed at a school for five years since then, until now. I believed in moving and learning, usually every three years. La Perle was a fertile place for young educators. Led by our mighty visionary, Bob Fletcher, we flourished as a school and as individuals. My girls were old enough to attend. Ragan was in kindergarten my first year there and Lauren soon followed. What a beautiful life for a single mommy. I loved my work, my girls, and we were all together, and they loved school, too!
My work was my life. We moved across the street from the school, and for those 5 years, enjoyed professional and familial bliss. The principal changed after three years (Pat Legg), and then again after one year (Becky Shandling). So, I didn’t have to move to learn. With new leadership, came new learning: all three leaders were extraordinary!
And the staff. What can I say? I still love each of them. I still follow some of my students from these days and they, me. They are grown and married with children – or most are. This was a profound, life-altering experience.
As my own children grew, so did my yearning for a “higher education”. I moved to our neighbourhood junior high, and Ragan followed me during my second year. I loved the students at this age. Lauren was in grade 5, alone for the first time at the elementary school. We loved junior high! It is here that I met Leslie Chevalier, a lifelong friend. But, I also loved change and learning. A new school with a new concept was opening, and I could not resist. The children were eager to move with me, so off we went, Lauren’s grade 7 year, and Ragan’s grade 9 year, to open Mary Butterworth School. What an experience.
I was at MBS with Jackie Hobal and teams of dynamic teachers that were second to none. I was there for three years. Ragan and Lauren stayed only for the first year. Jackie was there only for the first two, but her influence lives within forever. Lauren wanted to return to her neighbourhood school to be with her friends and Ragan was off to High School. This experience was life-altering. We became intimately close as a staff. We remain life-long friends with Colleen Oswald and family. And, there are so many others that will always have a place in my heart. I am still in close contact with many of these students and am proud of their accomplishments. Facebook rocks! I belonged to the Church of Mary Butterworth, but there wasn’t any place in Edmonton Public any longer, for me to practice my new-found religion.
After a couple of years at Crestwood, there was an opening of the Argyll Centre High School English program where I remained for three years. Just enough time to set it up and ensure it worked well. This was an “out of the box” teaching experience, and I thrived but missed the daily contact with students. Back to junior high and Hardisty where I again developed life-long relationships with many of my incredible students. The administration changed ut it was the students that made all the difference for me at Hardisty. I was there for 4 years… or was it 5? Bullying was now rampant in schools and this was the first school I had experienced it in. Dealing with bullying was a completely different kind of work. I was so proud to be a teacher aligned with the core principals of Edmonton Public Schools.
Kate Chegwin School was to be my last. I began with Darrel Robertson as principal. He had been a student teacher at Mary Butterworth and grown into a valiant focused and determined leader who earned the Gold Medal of Canada for his Master studies while with us. He later became our superintendent of schools. This was a work environment thriving with positive energy and incredible professionals working toward bringing out the best in every child every day, once again. This was an important reoccurring theme throughout my career. I have been very blessed to work with powerful leaders and inspired educators. Darrel left after three years, and I got very ill. I was probably ill before that, but I just kept pushing myself as we all do. It is difficult to be sick with a new administrator. I held on very well the first year, but the next three were the most sporadic in my teaching career. I was diagnosed with severe asthma and it became impossible for me to continue to teach. My body gave out before I did. It was a very sad and quiet leaving. I didn’t know. I left one day to take a couple of weeks to recover, not knowing I would never be back.
There was no cleaning out of my desk. I had never wanted a party, but I did want closure.
I wanted to collect my brown box full of my precious keepsakes. I wanted to see my colleagues who had been so supportive. When September rolls around and I don’t return, I will go and say good-bye. And wave. And smile. But that never happened.
I have given my life for 30 years to so many and that powerful part of my life is over. Over. It was sweet. So sweet and so wonderful, full, lively and lovely. I have been blessed more than I had ever imagined possible with the gifts of friendship and knowledge acquired throughout my life’s work. I got back so much more than I ever gave.
Oh, and I got a silver pin.