To be a teacher was always my dream. Often I would envision myself in a classroom discussing poetry and prose, and what the giants of literature were communicating to us. That was the goal for me.
This dream can be traced back to my early days in Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school in Waterloo. Often I would spend many enjoyable hours playing school with my best friend, Judy. We actually started our own library, putting the books in proper order, and then tried to sell them to other kids in the neighbourhood. I remember that we got 25 cents for each book sold.
Given my fascination with books, it should come as no surprise that my favourite subject in high school was English literature. My dream evolved once more as I set my sights on becoming a high school English teacher. With a lot of hard work I managed to graduate as an Ontario Scholar from St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener.
As I continued to pursue my goal at St. Jerome’s College on the University of Waterloo campus, I majored in English. Being severely hearing impaired since birth, I had to work a lot harder at my studies than most students. Lectures were often difficult when I couldn’t see or read the professor’s lips. So I relied heavily on borrowed lecture notes from many of the top students in my classes. Undeterred by the challenges, I continued to work hard to achieve my goal – my dream.
In 1972 I graduated from my English program with an average of over 80 percent. Next, I set my sights on Althouse College in London to earn my teacher’s degree. I had the marks I needed, and I had a proven track record of determination and a strong work ethic.
The day the letter from Althouse arrived will be etched in my memory forever. My hands were shaking with excitement as I opened the letter assuring my admission to teacher training in London.
No! This can’t be right! The letter stated that my application had been refused. They claimed that my hearing impairment would likely prevent me from successfully completing the program and make it virtually impossible to secure a job in a classroom. I was truly crushed…
Before long I pulled up my socks – with the help of my fiancé, my friends and my family. Reluctantly I acknowledged reality and put my dream on the back burner. I had worked at Economical Insurance part time throughout my high school and university years, and now they offered me full time employment. At that time very few people in that company had a university degree, so I decided to redirect my energies and create a career for myself in the insurance industry.
I was still bruised and battered from being barred from the teaching profession, but I also learned from that experience. I might be hearing impaired, but I have a lot of talents going for me – and I knew that I would have to work circles around everyone else in order to succeed. I toiled to succeed at my job in the Accounts department and evidence of my true worth came after I decided to take a leave of absence after my third child was born. After a couple of months at home, my boss begged me to come back and fix the mess that came about in my absence.
John beamed with pride as he suggested that I consider the request to return. He pointed out that I hadn’t been really content since I left the company. After some discussion with my boss, it was decided that John would pick up files from work after school each day, and return the ones I had “fixed”. This was a stopgap solution at best. In the face of increasing pressure from my boss, I decided to return part time until our youngest was in school. Aunt Aggie who lived next door to us, stepped in to provide quality daycare on the days I worked.
After I returned to the company full time, I decided I wanted to advance in the Accounts department. I was advised to take the Chartered Insurance Professional degree courses because a CIP degree would open more doors in the company and the industry. Again, John stepped up to support me and looked after the house and the kids while I was out taking courses and studying at home. My hard work paid off once more and I added another degree behind my name.
Before long, I moved from Kitchener Branch Accounts to Head Office Accounts and became Accounts Supervisor for the entire company. At the time, Economical was in the process of automating the Accounts department. I consulted with our IT people in developing the software and the procedures. I was instructed to in-service Accounts people in every branch across the country. I applied myself happily to the task of training company Accounts staff. It was one-on-one – but it was teaching!
Later I increased my expertise in insurance by spending several years in the Underwriting department at Kitchener Branch. When a job was posted as a business analyst in our IT department, I wasted no time and applied. Fortune smiled upon me once more as I was hired and spent the remaining years of my career there.
Thirteen years ago, prior to getting the IT job, I applied to the Ontario Insurance Institute, Conestoga Chapter, to be an instructor for the CIP courses. It meant teaching evenings and some entire weekends. This time I was not denied, and with great joy balanced by considerable trepidation, I began my part time teaching career.
The experience of teaching insurance professionals has been as joyous as was the anticipation! I felt blessed to be sharing my knowledge and experience with professionals eager to learn and succeed. It became clear that this classroom role was more about developing relationships. The insurance industry in Waterloo Region is a great place to do networking and teambuilding.
Today I am retired from Economical Insurance, but I’m still teaching the CIP courses – and loving every minute of it. At the end of each course, my greatest satisfaction is seeing successful students walk out of my classroom confidently ready to write their final exam because of our hard work together. I often receive emails from these students who take time to report their successes on those final exams and to thank me. That is so gratifying!
Then last month I was given the Instructor of the Year Award at the convocation luncheon at Waterloo Inn. I was further honoured by being placed at the head table where I could see so many of my former students among this year’s graduates. I had achieved the dream that I had placed on the back burner in the spring of 1972. But this award meant so much more than I had dreamed originally. I had proven to myself that my hard work and determination can overcome barriers that life tosses at us.
Yes… dreams can be embraced and achieved!