“It’s a new day for me every day”
Story and Photos by Casey Lessard
“To come over the horizon on that highway, it’s just a great feeling. You’d think that would wear off after a while, but it hasn’t.”
Gloria Miotto Wilks is talking about her daily commute from north of London to Mt. Carmel, which she has made for the past 25 years. The senior staff member, Miotto Wilks has been a teacher at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic school for half of the school’s life.
“[I feel] very young;” she says, laughing. “Younger than 50! It definitely makes you think about time and time passing. But I’ve always thought about it very positively and it’s been a super positive experience. I don’t look at it as an aging thing. I look at it as fun and learning.”
Staff and students are preparing for the school’s 50th anniversary this weekend, with a special mass Sunday at the church followed by an open house at the school. It will be a chance for past students and staff to reminisce and talk about their time at the school with other guests. The occasion brings back fond memories of Miotto Wilks’ first trip to the school. Her first class was a 5/6 split, and she came prepared.
“I had come from Toronto and had done my student teaching in a very difficult area,” she recalls. “There were a lot of racial issues in the early 80s, and it left a very bad experience at my last teaching post. I came here thinking I’d better come in here charged. I remember I put my long hair into a bun to look older and sort of strict, and when I walked into the classroom, I had one of the most fantastic classes I’ve ever had and even looking at them now, they’ve done wonderful things. I let my hair down the second day.”
Fast forward 25 years, and Miotto Wilks is still learning every day. Technology funded by the government has helped the process along.
“In the last five years I probably learned as much or more than I did in the previous 20. The government has given us lots of money and our board has tapped into that for literacy and numeracy. In the last five years, the philosophy of teaching has changed. We always did new things to a certain extent, but philosophically the growth has been more in the past five years.”
After starting out with Commodore computers, “We now have two smart boards, we have a computer lab, and each classroom is outfitted with two computers. If I had to say an area where I’d like to grow, that would be it. As computers were coming to the fore, I was busy with my kids at home and I’m not a technical person by nature. There definitely is a place for it. The kids type their homework and do a lot of their research on it.”
Even such basics as the 3Rs have changed.
“When you were a little kid, a math book had a lot of numbers on the page and a lot of it was skill building and facts. Now, there are a few numbers, but much more problem solving types of activities. I know for parents it was a big learning curve for them to figure out what the question was asking. I’ve even had that problem as a teacher. We’re making kids more cognizant of the fact that they’re thinking. Reading is thinking, so I’ll stop in the middle of a lesson and ask, What are you thinking about? What have you asked yourself while you’re reading? Also a lot of sharing of ideas; a lot of group work. It’s not quiet anymore.”
Miotto Wilks has taught Grades 3 to 8 and had a French homeroom for nine years. But unexpected moments have created the fondest memories.
“I remember I met a boy in the mall – I taught music and not that great; I play the guitar. This boy came and stopped me, he’s now 20 and he graduated from Fanshawe and he came and hugged me. He said, ‘Remember teaching us Simon and Garfunkel songs, that was so cool! Whenever I play those songs as a DJ I think of you.’”
And Miotto Wilks will never tire of seeing her students succeed.
“I was teaching Grade 7/8 at the time, a very bright class, and one gal was awesome and two years ago I got an invite from her parents. They had a little graduation party at their family farm and they really wanted me to come. So I did and she was thrilled that I came. She wrote me a beautiful thank you note with a picture of her as a doctor in it.”
So with her own success translating to her students, what will she do for an encore? Although Miotto Wilks doesn’t keep track of the exact number, she could retire within the next 5-7 years.
“I am not one to sit around and not do much, so the thought of retiring makes me feel sad. I need to be busy, so I might volunteer with the men’s mission. I don’t know if I’ll supply or not. I think once I’m finished I might be finished. Doing nothing is not a choice for me.
“I love coming here every day. People ask me, Are you tired of it? I say, No, it’s a new day for me every day.”
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, Mt. Carmel
Sunday, June 3
11 a.m. – Celebratory mass
12:30 p.m. – Open house
Contact: Principal Mike Bruneel
– Guests from school board speaking and local, provincial and federal governments presenting certificates
Open house: School open for community members, past students and staff to look around and reminisce
– Food available
– DJ playing music from 50s
– Photos from the beginnings to now on display
– Silent auction to help offset event costs
“There’s a lot of buzz about the event in the community. Most of the response has been from past students who are looking forward to coming back to the school. We’re looking forward to having the whole community come out and celebrate the past, present and future of the school.” – Mike Bruneel