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.
You will never stop teaching Val. I still learn from you everyday. It was so wonderful to read this post. Life goes way too fast. We get so busy “living life” that before we know it……whew………a big part of it has changed.
You are a special woman with a wonderful heart and I know your students loved you..and still do.
Yes, it was very sad the way it all ended. Such an inspiring career, so busy and you gave it everything you had and more, then to get so sick and never to go back is heartbreaking. You deserve a grand party in your honor!
I know that this next part in your life will be equally inspiring and special.
I am so happy and blessed to have you as my sister. I love you so much and wish only butterflies and sunny days ahead for you.
You will always be a teacher Valerie since you are now inspiring those who are eager to take your cooking classes and anyone who is lucky enough to be wrapped by your warm embrace.
What a warm and lovely compliment. Thank you.
As you say this, I remember one little child hugging me recently who said, “Mrs. Rodgers, you give the warmest, fluffiest hugs!”
I am still grinning.
I agree, you may stop being in the school system, but you can’t stop being a teacher.
Nicole Hiebert says
Valerie, I completely understand your feelings. My body gave out well before I did, to. I mourned, but only until I found something even more fulfilling. I truly believe my body failing allowed me to be what I was meant to be, all along. I consider what happened to me to be a blessing. It took a while, but it happened. Perhaps, some day, in some way, this may happen for you, as you find a new path to walk?
All I can say is your story touched me deeply and I am so grateful, on behalf of the students who were lucky enough to have you as a teacher, that you dedicated 30 years to enriching so many lives. The world is a better place because of you. Not many people can say that. 🙂
You are right… there is still so much life to live and so much to do. I discovered a few years ago that I probably wasn’t going to accomplish everything I had intended to do “when I grew up”. The list is long, for sure! Your response touched me as I know you have been on the road less traveled and it does sound like it has made all the difference.
Ragan Thomson says
I know in my heart of hearts that you were the consummate educator. It is with such great pleasure that I can say, you are MY mother. Education is lost without teachers I have cherished, first and foremost, you. I remember after graduating, sitting with you while you marked papers all weekend, took calls from parents and students, and prepared to shape these minds. It is because of you, I have positive memories (now) of school. I remember Mr. Fletcher, and Mr Robertson (hehe), Leslie C and Coleen Oswald. I remember my own teachers in these schools as well, Mr Park, Mrs. Styles, Mr. O, Mr. Kozub and Mrs. Diduk. These teachers were to me, what you were to SO MANY. I know that, because you were my life coach, my mentor and now, my friend.
I know that no matter what you are doing, you are educating, you are OUR greatest teacher.
What a tribute. I am blown away.
Dear sweet Valerie,
You will say goodbye to teaching in a public school, but those who know you know that you will never say goodbye to being a teacher. I remember saying this before and I’ll keep saying it, you are a walking human encyclopedia, my dear. Haha. And I mean that in the best way possible. There’s knowledge flowing out of you even when you don’t think you’re passing on anything. You may have stopped teaching in a public school, but you’re forever teaching. Whether it be cooking classes, blogging, motherhood, etc, etc….you get my drift. You are forever teaching.
There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve changed the lives of many of your students for the better just by being the thoughtful, generous, kind soul that you are. Your teachings will forever be passed on through them to their kids and their kids’ kids and so on. So please remember come September that with the end of one chapter, comes the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in your life. The Valerie I know will never say goodbye to teaching. Don’t be sad because it’s over, be happy that it’s another beginning. You’re one of a kind, Valerie! Stay strong like the fighter I know you are. Biggest, warmest hugs always, my dear. You are an inspiration to us all!!!!!!
What lovely, thoughtful, kind words. I have really missed our blogging together year. You are not immersed in mommying and I (currently) in my volunteer work – which has taken each of us in the opposite direction of the other. I do think of you and your adorable Miss Princess and Mr Troublemaker (only to you) often. You are an adventurer and as deep as the ocean is wide. Your writing has touched me today, once again.