After over 48 years of “playing school,” kindergarten teacher Marie Matwick has put away her chalk and erasers for good.
Matwick, 68, officially retired from Horse Lake Elementary School Tuesday, where she estimates she must have taught more than 1,000 “little bodies” over the years.
“It’s been my life really. I never had any children of my own and teaching kindergarten, you’re (taking on) the role of their parents to continue their education,” she said.
Students and staff held a farewell for the beloved teacher, who started at the school in 1976 – before the existing school was even built – after a stint in Ocean Falls, B.C. She recalls spending the first few months at Horse Lake working out of a portable before moving into the new school building in January 1977. Over the years, she has worked with five different principals and many teachers. While she wasn’t trying to set a record, she said she’s not sure anyone else will be able to best her tenure of 48 years.
“It’s been fun, I don’t consider it a job in a lot of ways but I’ve enjoyed it.”
At her farewell Tuesday, students and staff decorated the gym with pictures of flowers and the sun, with signs reading “You are our sunshine, Miss Matwick, we love you!” and “Thank you for helping us grow.” The students also sang songs and hugged her, telling her they loved her. A painted sun with the handprints of her kindergarten students was also on the wall – a gift to Matwick to take home.
There were tears on both sides. “I’m crying too but they’re happy tears,” Matwick said.
Growing up in Saskatchewan, Matwick always wanted to be a teacher, emulating her mother, a country school teacher on the Prairies. She would set up her own classroom, with her brother and sisters as her pupils, and loved “playing school.” After getting her teaching certificate at the University of Victoria, she got her first teaching job in the coastal community of Ocean Falls in 1973.
While reading the newspaper one day, Matwick noticed an ad for a position for a kindergarten teacher at Horse Lake Elementary. She quickly wrote a letter and sent one of her Grade 6 students to the post office. She got the job and the rest is history.
“Quick, quick, quick. It went very quickly and that’s how I ended up coming to Horse Lake and I’ve been here since ‘76.”
Matwick said she loves being a kindergarten teacher because of the children’s “joy and wonder” at the age. Her students are up for learning anything, she said, and she cherished seeing their faces light up when they figured something out for the first time, like how to sign their name.
“Even just talking about it gives me a happy feeling right now, just to see how they learned, I found it really rewarding. Just the wonder they had for learning made it really fun for me,” Matwick said. “They’re just wee little people starting off on a big long journey.”
Matwick had been teaching in the community for so long that many of her students today are the children of past pupils. Two former students, Margaret Ramsay and Lisa Pugh, also teach at the school, which she said is very special.
Her retirement is a lot sooner than she’d have liked but earlier this year, she had a bad fall and broke her hip. Thankfully, her colleague Leslie Dickson had called her early that morning and when Matwick didn’t respond, she drove to her house and was able to get in and call 911.
Although she’s fine now and can now walk with a cane, Matwick said unfortunately she’s no longer able to teach. She’s not sure what the future holds, although she does plan to sell her house and move to the Okanagan to be closer to her family and be an auntie to her great-nieces and great-nephews.
“It’s very sad. It’s like reading a book and coming to the end and you have to accept the ending whether you like it or not,” she said. “Maybe you had different predictions on how the book was going to end, I didn’t expect to end teaching this way, but it is what it is.”