On Thursday I attended a 25 year anniversary celebration at a school where I taught for 15 years from 1986 to 2003. The school is located in Mitchell, Manitoba a small community less than a ten minute drive away from Steinbach, the city where we made our home for over thirty years. I taught grades 2,3 and 4 in Mitchell. Here I am with three of my former colleagues who are still all teachers at the Mitchell School- Phyllis Wiebe , Rhonda Friesen and Wendy Thiessen.
I wasn’t exactly happy about having to transfer to Mitchell in 1986 when I came back to work after a maternity leave. I had taught at Elmdale School in Steinbach for over a decade. I had so many friends on the Elmdale staff and my older son was a student there. However I was low on the seniority list at Elmdale due to my maternity leave and the school in Mitchell needed teachers.
I ended up being very glad I had transferred to Mitchell. I had a supportive, caring principal Ron Dueck, great colleagues I learned so much from, and the parents in Mitchell were wonderful, so helpful especially when the school was just getting started. They volunteered to help the teachers in so many ways. I was one of six speakers at the anniversary and I think every one of us mentioned how invaluable the parents had been in the unstinting support they gave the school in its early years. Here I am with two of my former parent volunteers Becky Kornelson and Linda Schmidt.
The children at Mitchell were a diverse and interesting group. I began my job as a newspaper columnist for The Carillon the same year I started teaching at Mitchell and my students and their activities and ideas were often the topic of my weekly column in the Carillon as well as the column I eventually began to write for the Winnipeg Free Press. In fact at the anniversary they were handing out copies of a column I had written about the school when it first opened. I mentioned in my speech what a variety of class sizes I had at Mitchell from seventeen students in 1987 to thirty-nine in 1997.
Here I am with one of my former colleagues Audrey Loewen. She has since been transferred to another school but has many good memories of her years at Mitchell, just like I do. One of the things I talked about in my speech at the anniversary celebration was the staff book club we had at Mitchell. Audrey was part of that club. One evening a month we would get together at someone’s house, to eat, drink wine and discuss a book we had all read. Educational assistants, vice-principals, librarians, teachers all joined in. Although we always talked about the novel we had read for at least part of the time, our conversation often veered to our personal lives and our school joys and concerns. As I was unpacking my books in our new condo in Winnipeg last month, I thought fondly of our Mitchell book club as I put some of the novels we had read together on my shelves.
I wish I’d have had more time to visit with all my former colleagues who were at the anniversary. Anne Johnson who I taught with for many years at both Elmdale and Mitchell had come all the way from her home in New Zealand for the celebration.
Judith Schellenberg was our school secretary and she was amazing! I called her a ‘organizational genius’ in my speech and it was true. She ordered hot dogs and pizza, made class lists, disciplined kids and taught them manners, ordered supplies, answered endless phone calls, checked for head lice, provided a warm and friendly welcome to delivery people, bus drivers, nurses, social workers and anyone else who came to our school and was always willing to lend a listening ear to an anxious parent or a worried teacher. She is now a secretary at the Mitchell Middle School. How lucky they are to have her.
I paid tribute in my speech to three of my Mitchell colleagues in particular. One was Wendy Thiessen who is in this photo with me. Wendy remains one of my closest friends to this day and was my teaching partner in grade four at Mitchell. She was such a warm and loving teacher who took a personal interest in each student’s life. She was my role model in that regard and really influenced my teaching style, helping me to realize that connecting with kids and caring about them was far more important than covering every bit of curriculum. I also thanked my colleagues Karen Swiderski and Irene Schellenberg who nominated me for Manitoba Teacher of the Year and came to Government House with me in 1998 when I received the award.
What next? Well I’m not sure I’ll still be around for the Mitchell School 50th anniversary, but if I am, I’d definitely like to attend. I am glad I had the chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and reminisce about a school that played a very important role in my teaching career. Thanks Mitchell School for inviting me.