People

Educator knew early on she wanted to teach

January 07, 2022
BY GERRY RUCCHIN

Marilyn Elford always knew she wanted to be a teacher. However, she needed patience – and perseverance – to get in front of the classroom.

Elford’s journey to the teaching profession started as a student in a one room school in the 1940s when she was mentored by her teacher. Ironically, the teacher didn’t know she was mentoring Elford.

“I was not an attentive student,” she said. “I would spend my time watching and following the teacher around the room.”

Elford took her school room observations and applied them at home. Her first student was her younger sister Marie – she taught her to read.

“I never wanted to be anything else but a teacher,” she said.

While Elford caught the teaching bug at an early age, she had to wait to become a teacher. After graduating high school, she didn’t have the financial resources to go to post-secondary school to get teacher training. Instead, she found a job at the London Life Insurance Company.

She worked there for two years.

While at London Life, Elford noticed job ads in the local paper looking for one-room schoolteachers in rural Ontario. She applied – and was hired – to teach in a school near Petrolia.

For two years, Elford would go to summer school to take a teacher education course in Toronto for six weeks. Then she would return to Petrolia to teach for the school year.

After the second year, Elford saved enough money to go to teacher’s college in London.

“I loved every minute of it. I felt like I had come home,” she said. “It opened a whole new world for me. I met some interesting people.”

After graduation, Elford began her career at Lorne Avenue Public School where she taught hard of hearing students for 10 years.

She didn’t have the training to teach these students which meant another round of summer school to learn new skills.

During the school year, she had five students in her classroom, ranging from eight to 12 years of age and she fondly remembers taking them on a field trip one Saturday. Since these students never left the city, she took them to Lake Huron where they played in the sand and had supper at Elford’s parents’ farm.

While teaching, Elford continued her education by taking evening and summer classes at Western University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. She also received her specialist designation in Special Education and Primary Education and for several years supervised teacher candidates in her classroom.

After a decade at Lorne Avenue, Elford continued her career at University Heights, Orchard Park and Clara Breton schools where she taught primary and junior grades. Looking back at her career, she enjoyed the ‘a-ha’ moments that students received when they understood a lesson.

After retiring, Elford continues to be busy, and she believes being active in retirement is important. With that in mind, she’s been involved with community organizations, such as the Parkinson’s Society, participated in the Centre for Activity and Aging and Senior Alumni events at Western and has travelled extensively, allowing her to expand her horizons.

“There is life after teaching.”


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