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Hay River teachers retire

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, June 25, 2007

HAY RIVER - When next fall comes around, Hay River's Harry Camsell school will be missing some familiar faces.

Three long-time teachers in Hay River, and in the North, are all retiring at the end of this school year.

All three have taught elementary school in Hay River for many years - the past five years at Camsell and before that when Grades 1 to 3 were housed at Princess Alexandra school.

Susan White has taught elementary school in Hay River since 1979, while Marion Smith contributed 24 years and Pat Helmer eight years, aside from time they spent in other schools both in Hay River and elsewhere.

In all, the three have combined for an incredible 86 years of teaching in Northern Canada.

Smith, 64, said it will be difficult to leave Harry Camsell school.

"It's going to be hard to walk out of the building and hand in your key," said the Grade 3 teacher, who also taught for eight years in Manitoba.

White, 55, also said it would be hard to leave, adding there have already been difficult final milestones throughout the year, such as Christmas. "I was putting away all the Christmas decorations and knowing I wouldn't be doing this again."

The teachers also recounted little moments like reading favourite books to students and wondering if new teachers will read those books.

"We've been able to share all of that," noted White, who teaches Grade 2.

They all have nothing but praise for working at Harry Camsell school.

"It's a wonderful school," Smith said.

"It's been like a family from the beginning," White said, adding that teaching is not just a job, but a lifestyle.

Like many who have taught school for many years in the same community, they have had the experience of teaching the children of former students.

"That makes a real difference because we know the families," said Helmer, who also taught at Hay River's high school and in Nunavut.

"You're part of their families in a way," White added.

While they will no longer be teachers, the three said other retired teachers often drop by the school to volunteer.

"Whenever I feel lonesome, I'll come over," said the 60-year-old Helmer, who teaches Grade 1.

White said other retired teachers volunteer at the school all the time. "They still feel like they're part of the staff."

All three plan to stay in Hay River for their retirements.

Helmer is originally from Edmonton, White from Montreal and Smith from Balmoral, Manitoba.