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Thanks for everything, Miss Stewart

Miss Stewart class photo

When I look at the old class photo, I remember feeling pretty good that day, and credit two things: wearing the mauve satin dress my mum had just made for me, and the teacher standing alongside our class.

I recently got to express my appreciation in person to my teaching superhero, my Grade 6 teacher Miss Stewart, many decades after that pivotal year in her class at Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary School. I'm so glad I did.

She wasn't hard to idolize. She was young, beautiful, kind. And famous. Well, she didn't talk about it, but another teacher mentioned it once, and I looked her up in the library encyclopedia. Mary Stewart (now McIlwaine) was a former Olympic athlete, a competitive swimmer who, from the age of 14, had broken the world record twice in the women's 100-metre butterfly. She competed in two Olympic games (Rome and Tokyo) and Commonwealth and Pan Am Games around the world as a teenager.

But to me, she was this positive spark of life who made the 12-block walk to school every morning worthwhile, who used to walk around the gym on her hands, who taught me gymnastics-a teacher who took me under her wing when I was the awkward, shy, too-tall, “new girl” at the school. She reflected back a greater version of my 10- and 11-year-old self that I would never have been capable of imagining.

She spotted my passion for storytelling, and never stopped telling me I had to write for the school newspaper; to join the Literary Club, to keep writing. She made me see the possible. I went on to a career as a CBC journalist, writer, and broadcaster. I also teach part-time and mentor journalism students at Langara College. 

I summoned up my pluck and contacted her a while ago. She was thrilled and said she'd love to meet. So recently, we did. At the Sylvia Hotel. For a lunch that lasted till dinnertime. We talked for over five hours, and could have kept going. It was a delight, and my 10-year-old teacher hero is now my friend. If there's a teacher or mentor who has made a positive difference in your life, tell them while they're still around. Thanks for everything, Miss Stewart!  

By Pamela Post, Vancouver journalist, Langara journalism instructor
Reprinted from Teacher magazine, Volume 30, Number 1, September/October 2017.