My mom was the reason I got into teaching. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up so when people asked me that question, it caused me concern that I didn’t have a clear plan or direction for my life. I only decided to take education courses because I had no better ideas. Not a great reason to choose a career, I know.
I’ve always known my mom as a mom first and teacher second. But as I began my second attempt at a teaching career (after a 20-year break for children) I began to have a new appreciation for my mom and her dedication and gifts as an educator.
To me she had always been mom.
I knew she subbed in my class when I was growing up and I remember some stressful years when she filled in for extended leaves and there were less homemade cookies for a season, but she was always just mom. She didn’t go back to full-time teaching until I was in college. But looking back and reminiscing with her I realized she was teaching on and off through much of the last five decades. And over those five decades she has seen so much change.
The Early Days
She began teaching in 1971 after her dad, a university professor, suggested it due to her love of kids. She had done three years of college, a year of education courses, and two years of a Bachelor of Arts degree. Fresh out of university and newly married, she began at Calvin Christian School in Winnipeg and there she stayed for the next 49 years. She was hired to teach a grade 1/2 combination with 34 kids. This small Christian school had a grand total of six staff, including my mom. She taught all subjects except for music, as a special teacher came in to teach that once a week. This was her only break in the week since the teachers were required to do supervision on the playground each day. There was no gym, so PE was done outside, regardless of the cold winter weather. Since the other elementary teacher, who taught the grade 3/4 class, was from the USA, my mom was nominated to teach French to all the students. I can’t remember my mom saying anything in French, so I have to admit, I’m very curious how that went down.
The students sat in rows of desks and my mom stood at the front with the supplied workbook that gave her the exact script she needed to say, including how the children should respond. Children must have been much more predictable back then.
Full Faith and Trust
Christian school was, and still is, something that parents had to scrimp and save for, but back then, people paid tuition week by week. My mom remembers waiting for the school board treasurer to come by with her cheque as it was always a bit “touch and go” whether there would be enough money in the coffers to pay the staff. There were times when the treasurer needed to pay a visit to one of the parents and ask them to pay their tuition in advance, just so he could write this month’s staff pay cheques. My mom made a grand total of $4800 that year. And I’m sure she earned every penny of it.
There were no educational assistants to help struggling students so the education of 34 students rested entirely on her shoulders. Parents put a lot of faith and trust in her as their child’s teacher and she knew the sacrifice they were making to send their kids to school.
Money wasn’t the only sacrifice. Three of her students came from the other side of the city. These little grade 1 students would catch the city bus on their own, ride it all the way to city hall in downtown Winnipeg where they would transfer to another bus that would bring them to the north side of the city and Calvin Christian School. In the afternoon they did the whole trip again in reverse.
There are days when I stand at the photocopier, drumming my finger impatiently, mumbling under my breath at how I have so many things to do when I remember back to my mom’s stories of using an old Gestetner. This machine made it possible to copy an original if you wrote it on the correct type of paper and then put it in the machine and started cranking out copies. Thirty-four cranks later and my mom would have a single copy for each student. That is, if it didn’t end up jamming in the machine and coming out unreadable.
My mom stepped down from full-time work to have four children but during that time she was taking courses to finish up her Bachelor of Arts and regularly filling in for extended leaves or maternity leaves. In 1976, she taught on Wednesdays so the principal could have one day a week to do administration work. She taught both of my brother’s classes for extended periods of time, and though the kindergarteners wore her out physically, the toll that the grade 7s had on her was more mental and emotional. Eventually she settled into a grade 1 position that became full-time and that’s where she stayed for the next 27 years. She finally decided to hang it up in June 2020 at the age of 70.
An Energizer Bunny
My mom has been my inspiration as a teacher since the beginning. I remember student teaching in her class and being amazed at the way she could have such a good relationship with her students and yet still maintain such order with 20 plus little people all needing her attention at once. She is no pushover, my mom. She tells it straight and the kids know they can’t get away with much, but what you see is what you get. She is uncomplicated, dedicated, an energizer bunny (even at 70), and dedicated to children. She loves nothing more than to sit down and read them a book or play a game.
My mom was known for her tea parties. Each day she brought two homemade cookies, one for her and one for the lucky student that would join her. They would share a cup of tea while the rest of the students went out for recess. Students couldn’t wait for their turn. Why? I’m sure it wasn’t because she shared anything profound. But they knew they mattered, they knew she heard them, saw them, and they knew she believed in them. Over 49 years, that part of teaching never changed for my mom.
Aspiring to be like my mom is a useless endeavour. It’s just not possible. I will never have her boundless energy and her knowledge of education based on five decades of experience and wisdom. But despite “falling” into a teaching career rather than chasing after it like my mom, I do think I have her passion for children just as deeply embedded in my heart. God knew, even if I didn’t, that teaching was something I should do simply because I love kids and I see their potential.
I want to continue her legacy of letting students know they are seen, they are heard, they matter, and I believe in them. And with God’s help and mom’s example, I will.