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BECOMING A TEACHER



Was I a “born teacher” as my mother used to say – I’m not sure. I do know that from my earliest memories I was most often “playing school” with my dolls and a blackboard that I had received on St. Nicholas Day – December 6, while a child in Holland. I loved explaining things to children younger than me and convinced them to play school with me when I could. Since I had three younger brothers this was not always an easy task as they preferred more active games. My love of reading fit right in with school – type activities.

We came to Canada when I was 10 years old so there naturally was a learning curve as I had to learn to read and write in English. I seemed to have an affinity for the language and was soon enjoying library books in my new language.

Success at school in elementary as well as high school convinced me that becoming a teacher was the career for me. Accordingly, after graduating from Grade 13 at Copper Cliff High School in June of 1961, off I went to North Bay Teachers’ College. I loved every day of that one – year course especially being in the classroom and finally getting the opportunity to actually teach! Some people complained about some of the tedious things we had to do but not me. I knew that learning to print and write properly was necessary in order for me to be able to teach the children who would soon be my responsibility. Learning how to teach reading and phonics was a revelation to me as I learned many nuances of the language that I had used but not known why. The college library became my second home! Looking forward to reading to my young charges meant that I needed to know the literature which was suitable and of interest to the various grade levels. Besides that reading for pleasure was my way of relaxing when my work was done. It still is! During my practice teaching assignments which took place in and around North Bay as well as in Sudbury, contact with the pupils excited me. I remember being sent to Cobalt for one week in February of 1962 along with two classmates, Glenn Piccini and Carol Wanamaker. It was extremely cold and the snow banks were nearly as high as the homes. The billeting family which hosted us was very kind and treated us as family. The lady was an excellent cook who spoiled us with the best of home cooking. The pupils were respectful and the practice teacher in whose class I was working was most encouraging and helpful. My evaluation at the end of that week was very good. Later that year I was assigned a week at Naughton Public School in a Grade 7 class there. One of the lessons I was asked to teach was a math lesson helping students to understand the difference between a bill and a receipt. One boy was experiencing a difficult time understanding the concept. However by the end of my lesson, I saw the proverbial light bulb go on indicating that he understood my explanations. What a thrill that was for me as this was the first time that I had actually seen that!

While at North Bay Teachers’ College, I joined the coed 80 member school choir directed by Mr. M. J. Curtis. It was an amazing feeling to belong to such a large choir and I thoroughly enjoyed the practices as well as our performances. On March 2, we came to Sudbury by bus to compete in the Kiwanis Music Festival. I had alerted my parents who attended the performance on Friday afternoon. Mom said there was no doubt as to who we were telling me that we all walked onto the stage with a great deal of confidence and in her words, “like teachers”. I liked hearing that comment. Soon I would achieve my dream.

In April there was a job fair at the college. Representatives of school boards came from all across the province to recruit teachers for their staffs. There were over 500 of us graduating in 1962 and we had our choice of where we wanted to begin our careers. Mr. Gordon Whalen, the principal of Creighton Mine Public School and his secretary Irene Simpson, interviewed and hired me that day. He had taught me at Lively Public school when I was a student there in Grade 7 so we already knew each other. I was so excited now that I actually knew where I would be teaching! He also hired my classmates, Barbara Fraser and Helen Hughes. He told me that I would have a grade 3 or 4. It didn’t matter to me – I would love it, I knew that! Helen was assigned to teach Grade 2 and Barbara would teach Grade 3. We were all three happy about that as we already knew each other and would be living together at the Teachers’ Residence in Creighton.


The graduation dance in May was a wonderful evening of accomplishment and anticipation. Alex came from Sudbury for it and we had great fun! Now it was official – I was a certified teacher in the Province of Ontario and I was so very proud of that and so were my parents!

Shortly after I arrived home at my parents’ home in Whitefish at the end of May, the phone rang. It was for me! The teacher in the one room school at Worthington needed to take some time off as his daughter had been seriously injured in a car accident in North Bay – could I come to take his place until he could return? Talk about baptism by fire! When I arrived at the school whether it was my youth or the fact that they loved their teacher, I wasn’t sure but the pupils did not accept me. They did all they could to disrupt my lessons, and challenged my authority in every way they could think of! This was totally unexpected by me and I was unsure of what to do. However I realized I had the responsibility to teach these children to the best of my ability and that is what I was determined to do. It took only a few very long days but by the end of the two weeks, things were going smoothly. My self - confidence was restored.

I moved into the Teachers’ Residence on Snider St. in Creighton Mine at the end of August and began immediately to prepare for my first official day of teaching the Grade 3 /4 class which was now mine. Preparing lessons, decorating the bulletin boards, arranging the furniture, becoming acquainted with the other staff members, were all tasks which I enjoyed immensely! The first day of school finally arrived and as I was walking to Creighton Mine Public School from the Residence, I was excited but also somewhat fearful as I wondered if I would be able to effectively teach these eight and nine year – olds with whom I had been entrusted. The fact that I had been a pupil at this school when I was a child added to the sense of eagerness which I was experiencing. It was indeed a very emotional day for me!

Barbara, Helen and I often returned to the school in the evening after supper to prepare for the next day. We did so without ever feeling this to be a burden but that it was exactly what we needed to do for our pupils. I recall arriving back at the Residence well after 10 pm from school on more than one occasion. One of my pupils was diagnosed with rheumatic fever that first year so I went to her home and taught her there so that she would not lag behind her classmates. She returned to school for the months of May and June and achieved over 80% in her final Grade 4 exams. I was so very proud of Kathy! The Creighton parents were most supportive and the children very respectful which made teaching joyful and productive as few discipline problems were encountered.

A young man, Doug Porteous, called me one day to ask if I would tutor him in math as he was experiencing difficulty with this Grade 9 subject. He came to see me at the Teachers’ Residence and we worked at the dining room table for several nights. He credits me to this day as the reason he passed math that year and told me so again at the Creighton Reunion in September. Thanks Doug, but it was your efforts and your desire to seek help when you realized that you were in trouble that resulted in you passing that course. I was proud of his initiative!

The second year that I was teaching was a most eventful year as Alex and I had decided to get married on December 28, 1963. That was also the year that President John Kennedy was assassinated in the U.S. in November. Our principal Gordon Whalen knocked on each of our doors and told the teachers what had transpired. Then he opened the PA system to all our classrooms so that we could hear the radio reports as they were being broadcast. It was most frightening as we had no idea where this horrific event might lead. The Solar System which was the subject of my lesson at the time was soon forgotten. I also felt the responsibility to keep my students as calm as possible which meant having to hide my own emotions of this event.

There were several bridal showers for me before the Christmas Break and the parents of my pupils attended as well as my colleagues. I received many lovely and useful gifts. On my wedding day, I welcomed at least a dozen of my pupils to the reception at Cabrini Hall next to the Catholic Church. Their mothers had called to ask if the children were indeed invited to do so. My reply was that of course as they were a very important part of my life. The little girls loved to see their teacher as a bride! My parents thought that this was wonderful and were happy to see them too. I told the children that when they returned after the Christmas Holidays my name would now be Mrs. Fex, not Miss de Burger – would they be able to remember that? They assured me that they would.

Being married meant that I moved from the Residence into Carbone’s Apartments located right across the street from the school. Alex and I started our married life there as had so many Creighton couples before us. Now I only had to cross the street to get to school. My pupils tried very hard to remember my new name but if they failed, they had to put a penny into the Red Cross jar. Every Friday afternoon we had a Red Cross program consisting of skits and songs and discussing the admirable work of that organization wherever there was a need. Both the children and I looked forward to these afternoons. It was a more relaxed hour in the classroom and gave me the opportunity to learn about my students’ talents and interests which was important in getting to know the whole child.

Within a short time of being married I became pregnant for our first child – a daughter we would name Jacqueline. In the sixties once a teacher became pregnant she had to resign as soon as she started to “show’”. Accordingly, in June of 1964, I submitted my letter of resignation to the Creighton Mine Public School Board although reluctantly. However in January of 1965, Mr. George Stephens, the new principal, called me to ask if I would return to teach his Grade 8 class as “Principal’s Relief” person. I would be teaching the English program three afternoons a week. Since Irene Gignac who lived in our building offered to take care of Jacqueline for me, I agreed readily. It felt good to return to teaching even if it was part time. This meant that while most of my time was spent happily with my new baby, I was also able to do that which I loved so much at school. I liked being part of the staff again, receiving happy greetings from my former pupils, and in general just being part of the school community once more.

From that time on, I taught at least part of every year until I retired in 1996.


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