Main photo: Retiring teacher Heather Martin is an advocate for children’s literacy skills and fostering a love of reading at an early age, says former colleague Lisa Mcilmoyle. (submitted)
“What would Mrs. Martin do?” This is how the colleagues of retiring Riverside Public School teacher Heather Martin would affectionately define many of their decision-making moments, according to fellow teacher, retiree Lisa Mcilmoyle.
That Heather Martin is beloved and respected by fellow teachers, staff, students, and their families is almost an understatement. So it is no surprise that a group of her co-workers—Elaine Christensen, Tanya Giles, Lisa Mcilmoyle, Deb Nickalls, Melanie Paquet, Janice Roy, Tammy See, and Francine Vezeau—were determined to find a public way to recognize Heather’s achievements and accomplishments as she prepares to retire this June after 30 years of teaching.
Mrs. Martin started working with Trillium Lakelands District School Board in 2004 when she got married and moved to Huntsville. She calls husband Greg “such a support over the years and during the COVID online teaching. He’s our outside representative, running tech to and fro for my class and sourcing much needed items.”
Heather has taught every grade from kindergarten to grade 8 including special education avenues such as resource, gifted, and developmental delay (as they were called at the time). She says, “I really didn’t enjoy the categorical organization attached to any of the special education classes. We were all learning together, working on our own needs and celebrating our strengths.”
After years teaching grades other than kindergarten, Heather wanted to return to her primary education roots, so became a kindergarten specialist. She sees inherent differences in teaching young minds that are newly entering the world of education. “I love welcoming our newest learners to the elementary system. I enjoy the connectedness with families that is unique to the early years.”
Describing her teaching style as eclectic, Heather believes that “the ideal teaching and learning model mirrors a triangle in that it provides the strongest unit… teacher, family, environment/community, all working together with the child held gently within.”
Deb Nickalls sees the seven years she has been team teaching with Heather to be a uniquely solid professional relationship that wove in and out of their personal lives. She fondly recalls their first year together with children arriving in class who were happy and eager to learn, other children who were cautious and less communicative, along with children who cried, kicked and were in all-out fight response for being ‘left’ at school by their families. She laughs, “It was an eye-opener for me. I felt like I had been dropped dead centre of kinder-aged mayhem.”
Watching Heather triage early in that year with such confidence and capability, Deb acknowledges that she is a better educator because of her relationship with Heather Martin.
“Words like committed, caring, attentive, dedicated, thoughtful, and intentional get used lots when describing people who do their job well. But, I have met very few professionals in my life that have consistently—and I mean daily—held themselves accountable to these standards of performance,” she says. “The children who came through our classroom knew that Mrs. Martin paid attention because she cared for their well-being and because they were worth every second of her time.”
It is no surprise that Heather will miss the children most of all in retirement. “When I consider the number of children I have had the opportunity to learn alongside over these 30 years, it is simply overwhelming. The children bring purpose, focus, challenge, happiness, and lots of memories. I will miss other aspects of teaching, but hands down, the children will be missed most of all.”
Colleagues don’t have enough superlatives to attribute to Heather Martin. To a person they call her warm, professional, nurturing, thoughtful, calm, kind, funny and animated, and generous with her time and expertise.
Lisa Mcilmoyle calls Heather a master of setting children up for success by design, by providing an engaging classroom environment. She says admiringly, “Heather has impeccable communication with parents of her students and welcomes them into the classroom for observation time or to volunteer. She really is the face of kindergarten at Riverside Public School.”
With deep gratitude, Deb Nickalls promises, “As the years pass it is inevitable that hearing Heather’s name will lessen but as long as I am in the school system, her memory and her ‘Heatherisms’ will live on, as will the heart-felt guidance that makes each one of those phrases special.”
Many people remember a favourite teacher even if they’ve been out of school for decades. It should give Heather Martin a well-deserved glow to know that years from now some of her beloved students will respond —in answer to the question of who was their favourite teacher—”That’s easy! It was my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Martin!”
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