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 crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me” 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 a 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 was 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 definitely 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 together 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 in the city at that time. I was there for five years. I haven’t been to a school since for five years, until now. I believed in moving and learning. 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 come to this school. Ragan was in kindergarten my first year there and Lauren soon followed. What a beautiful life for a single mommy. I loved my work. I loved my girls and they loved school, too! My work was my life. We moved next door to 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: and all three of these leaders where 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 the children grew, so did my yearning for a “higher education”. I moved to our neighbourhood junior high, and Ragan followed 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 life long 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 absolutely 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 go back to her friends in the neighbourhood and Ragan was off to High School. This experience was life altering for me. 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 so proud of their accomplishments. Facebook rocks! I belonged to the Church of Mary Butterworth, but there wasn’t anyplace 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 a very much “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 here, too, but was not what made the difference for me at this point in my career. It was the students. 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. This was a completely different kind of work, and one of critical importance that took those up the ladder a little longer to catch on to. But, not too long. Edmonton Public has my vote of confidence. I was so proud to be a teacher aligned with the core principals of the institution I worked within.
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. This was a work environment thriving with positive energy and incredible professionals working toward bringing out the best in every child every day, again. It is a bit of a 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.
I am still so sad about that. There was no cleaning out of my desk. Not by me. I had never wanted a party. But, I did want closure, and I still do. Once I collect my brown box full of my precious keepsakes. Once I see my colleagues who have been so supportive. Once September rolls around and I don’t go back for the very first time. … then, I will say good bye. And wave. And smile.
Today, I am still in mourning. Sad that 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.
And I got a silver pin.