Today was another milestone in my retirement process. I think that the beginning of the ending of my Ministry of Education career began the day our English language learner team won an award for its collaborative work. This team has responsibility for developing a policy and resources to support students who are learning English. Some of these students are recent immigrants, while others were born here in Canada but raised in communities where English is not the language spoken in their homes and neighbourhoods. I have always been very proud of the work that this team has done. This lovely tree image grew from our first resource: Many Roots, Many Voices, and we hope that it communicates the respect that we have for the students – and their families – who face this daunting task of learning a new language and a new culture. It appears on the Ministry’s English language learner policy, and resources to support English language learners in Kindergarten and those with Limited Prior Schooling. Before long, under the leadership of the newer team members, it will appear I’m sure on more wonderful resources.
My final weeks of work at the Ministry were sprinkled with moments of recognition and the sharing of memories and dreams. I had a fabulous retirement lunch with my team and an amazing retirement party. And then I left. For about another week I could still log on to my Ministry webmail and then one morning when I tried to log in I found myself locked out. Okay – a transitional moment. Today was another real highlight in saying goodbye to the career that has absorbed my heart, mind and spirit for some 30 years.
ERGO is an organization of ESL/ELD coordinators, consultants, and designated representatives of boards of education, colleges and universities across Ontario who are dedicated to the improvement of educational opportunities and practices for English language learners. I have been working closely with ERGO for the past six or seven years. Although when I took on this portfolio I had very limited background in ESL they helped me along; teaching me things I needed to know, encouraging me, redirecting me when I lost my way; in every way providing me with all of the support that I needed to be able to do my job. My colleagues in ESL were frequently (almost always) ERGO members as well. These educators have chosen to work with students who are among the most vulnerable in our education system – students who need to learn English at the same time as they learn the content of the curriculum and the structures of our school system. This is no easy task. They need all of the things that all students need and then a little more; a little more comforting from time to time, a little more compassion for the challenges that they and their families face, a little more patience and a little more advocacy. ERGO members, and indeed all of the ESL teachers I’ve had the pleasure of working with, are truly amazing and it has been an honour to work with them.
Each year ERGO has a retreat; two days in which the membership gathers to learn together, share their triumphs and challenges, and strategize about what to do next to best support their students. Today was the second day of the retreat and I was invited to join them for lunch. I thought it was just for lunch; a much appreciated opportunity to say goodbye to colleagues that have meant so much to me. Since the meeting was about 160 kilometres from Toronto David and I decided to make the journey together. I was more than surprised – truly delighted – when I found out that not only was I expected for lunch but that I was somehow “on the agenda” as a good news item. For almost half an hour ERGO members talked about the advances they’d seen in their jurisdictions in services being provided to English language learners, thanking me profusely for the work that I’d done on their behalf. One of those wonderful people who spoke was a young woman who I had taught when she was in teacher training at Trent University and listening to her speak I had that wonderful feeling of continuity and completion. Once again the word “stubborn” seemed to come up quite often and it was so wonderful to know that in their eyes my stubbornness – which I prefer to see as determination – had made a difference.
Moments of feeling truly honoured are rare in life I think. Today was one of those moments for me. I left that meeting feeling more “finished”. I will carry the memory of that meeting with me for a long time, and undoubtedly on days when I’m feeling as though I’ve lost my anchor I’ll think back to today with gratitude. Having ways to say goodbye is incredibly important and I wonder how many of us have been lucky enough to experience that and wise enough to make sure that the women and men that we work with never leave us without that sense of having been a part of something important. I hope it’s a lesson I will remember.