By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Students won’t be the only ones saying goodbye to Notre Dame Elementary School this week, two of the school’s longest-tenured teachers will be as well. But unlike many of the school’s students, the teachers will not be returning to stroll the hallways this fall. Viviane Pezer and Linda Gibson are retiring after 15 and 28 years with Notre Dame, respectively.
Pezer began her teaching career in Saskatoon in 1967 and began teaching in Morinville in 1971 when school was being taught in the basement of the convent. When the current Notre Dame was built, Pezer moved from the convent to what was then known as the Yellow School and located behind St. Jean Baptiste Church. During government cutbacks she switched from teaching French emersion kindergarten to English-speaking Grade 1.
Pezer’s more than four decade teaching career was inspired by her own Grade 2 teacher.
“I thought she was gorgeous; I thought she was beautiful,” Pezer said. “We lived out in the country, so we couldn’t stay in town very often. When we could stay in town I would ask her if I could help her after school cleaning the brushes. I used to watch her with admiration. It was in Grade 2 that I decided that I wanted to be a teacher.”
For Gibson, her teaching career began in 1972 in Whitecourt where she taught elementary school music for her first four years in the profession, a subject that she soon learned was hard on her voice and challenging.
“You had a new class every half hour,” she said, adding that when she went to her own classroom after moving to Lethbridge, she found things much different. “I loved that. I loved having my own 25 or 33 or 28 – whatever it was. I loved having that rapport with just my own class.”
The two teachers have seen many changes in both education and the students they’ve taught over their combined 82 years of teaching.
Pezer said that the demands on teachers have greatly increased over the years.
“There’s so much that is put on a teacher’s plate now,” she said. “We used to have fun before, a lot of fun in the classroom – learning while we were having fun.”
For both Pezer and Gibson that fun extended from the classroom to the staff room in an era where teachers had a little more free time between classes.
“Today you walk in there and there are not that many people in there,” Pezer said. “They’re working. The workload is heavy.”
Gibson recalls a time when the hallways were free of students over the noon hour.
“When I taught in Lethbridge we had an hour and twenty minute lunch hour,” Gibson said. “The men teachers played ping pong on the stage in the gym. All the lady teachers just worked, worked, worked so that on Friday we could go out for lunch. We did all of our chequing, all of our planning at that noon hour off.”
But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is both teachers’ love for and connection with their students, something both educators said they will miss the most in their retirement.
Pezer said her fondest memories of being a teacher are meeting former students who have gone on to lead successful lives.
“When they come back, that’s so special,” she said. “One of my former students came this year and he towers – he’s really tall. But he was so proud to step into the room. And he told the kids, “Did you know that I used to sit on these little chairs?”
For Gibson, one of her fondest memories is being able to teach entire families of children.
“You taught the oldest sister, the youngest sister and the little brother,” she said. “So you really built up a great rapport with the people in that family, with the mom and the dad because you worked with them; you saw the improvement their children had made.”
In addition to missing the students, both teachers said they will miss working with their colleagues at the school.