Being an elementary school teacher was always Cathy Townsend’s dream, one she lived out for 35 years.
This much-loved teacher at Gaspereau Elementary school, however, has just retired.
Growing up in Wolfville as the second of 10 children, Townsend had lots of opportunity at home to look after young children, and this solidified in her mind that this was what she wanted to do as a career.
She started out by studying child studies at Mount Saint Vincent in Halifax, where she worked in different educational settings.
Her teaching career actually began in Freeport, Bahamas where she taught Grade 1. After returning to Nova Scotia, Townsend taught for two years in Hantsport, four years at Cornwallis District High School in Canning, then the last 28 years at Gaspereau Valley Elementary School.
Throughout her career, Townsend has taught a variety of classes, including Grade 1, high school special education, upper elementary and multi-age classes, but the majority of her career, she says, was spent in primary - and that was definitely her favourite grade.
Primary is all about special moments, and there are so many examples of exciting things in a primary class. It’s honestly a daily occurrence, she says.
“When a child is learning to read, figures a problem out, completes something on their own, the excitement and pride in their little faces is something that is incredible to watch and so much fun to celebrate every single time,” she says.
Former school principal Jeff Newbery says Townsend has been a rock for the Gaspereau community for many years.
“It was always heartwarming when a parent would find out that their son or daughter was going to be in Mrs. Townsend’s class and would comment ‘I had Mrs. Townsend when I went to Gaspereau and I love her,’” says Newbery.
Although there are many rewards that come with teaching, it also had its challenges.
Technology, Townsend says, has really changed teaching. Although positive, there are also some negative implications.
“There is much more expectation that you are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says. “Teachers spend a lot of their ‘free time’ planning and worrying about the students they teach and now people expect immediate responses to their emails, which can be very difficult.”
Throughout her career, Townsend says she continued to change and adapt and, after 35 years of teaching, she learned to appreciate the little things a lot more.
“I really became aware of how fast the time was going as my career moved on, so I tried to enjoy the special moments with the students in my class and in our school,” she says.
Time has moved quickly, and Townsend made the decision to retire at the end of this past school year. Her youngest daughter graduated from high school this year and ever since she started elementary school, Townsend says the plan always was that they would graduate together.
With more than three decades of teaching under her teaching belt, she says it made sense to finish their school careers together.
Come the first day of school this year, instead of heading to the classroom or sleeping in, Townsend says she has appointment to donate blood.
“I thought it was very fitting to do something for someone else that day, just like I’ve done every other first day of school,” she says.
After that, Townsend says she plans to spend her time traveling. Her oldest daughter lives in Sweden, and she already has a trip planned there. Townsend says she never felt she had time for hobbies or the freedom to exercise regularly while working and raising her own children, but she is hoping to do both in retirement.
When looking back over her own career, Townsend has advice for those who are thinking about becoming a teacher, the first of which is to follow your passion.
She says she found it rewarding to be involved with as many things at the school as possible. She treasures the connections formed with students, and she says new teachers might be shocked to discover how meaningful a little gesture from students who are excited to see their teacher can be.
Newbery says that Townsend practiced what she preaches.
“Cathy consistently went above and beyond for the community and always made herself available for events, community get-togethers at the school, and special projects,” he says, adding she has truly been a blessing to the school community.
“School is the safest place for some students and the more connections they can make there, the better,” says Townsend. “Always take that extra moment to say ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ when you see a student.”