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Educator reconnects online with students 50 years later

Terry Ellwood turned to Facebook to reconnect with students in the first class he taught — Grades 5/6 at Hudson Public School.

Terry Ellwood wanted to do something unique to celebrate turning 75 this year.

So the retired educator, who spent his entire career in the Northwest, as a teacher, principal and finally director of education for the Lakehead District School Board, decided to reach out to the first class he taught in Hudson.

Ellwood posted on a Facebook discussion board for the Sioux Lookout community earlier this month trying to find his former students.

“I have often wondered how each of you made out in life ... some, that I still keep in touch with remind me every so often how things are going ... but others ... I have no idea. I would like to throw out my own challenge to see if we, collectively, can track down a little info on all the students in that original two years,” Elwood wrote in the post.

It spawned a lively discussion and the posting of some old photos.

“Oh golly, a little more than half of my first class have touched base,” Ellwood said when reached in Port Alberni, B.C., where he now lives. “And they let me know about some of the other kids.”

He said he remembers the kids in his first class like it was yesterday.

“It's a long way from yesterday, but it was not only that I’m 75 this year, but that it’s the 50th anniversary of my first year teaching. So I thought it might be fun to try to connect,” he said.

“Ironically, I saw a posting on Facebook one day saying who can remember their Grade 5 teacher while I thought just the reverse, “I wonder how many Grade 5 teachers remember their kids?” And you know, I remember virtually everyone.”

Ellwood said the job in Hudson Public School was his first right after graduating from teachers college in 1973. He and his wife now of 54 years, Leni, moved to the Sioux Lookout area for work.

He said during his 37-year career he’s done every job from fixing the photocopier to directing a board with 16,000 students and 2,500 employees, but his philosophy of education and how he approached teaching and learning was basically built from his time in Hudson.

One of Ellwood’s former students posted in the discussion thread, “Going down in history as my best teacher, I’m 60 years old now, wow where did the years go. I hope you had a good life, you must be retired, one memory I have is our class trip to Winnipeg, lol.”

Ellwood explained more about that trip, saying during that time there was a travel program for students in grades 7 and 8, but not for those in grades 5 and 6. 

“So we raised a bunch of money and we made a trip in the Winnipeg. I booked all the kids into the University of Manitoba [residence halls since university was done for the year] and we visited all the neat things at the university. We did the zoo and we did all that kind of stuff,” he said.

“Now, you got to remember that some of these kids were from northern reserves and they came to Hudson [for] school. They were not used to travelling around, they probably hadn't been very far, most of them, except away from home to stay [in the area for school.] So the trip to Winnipeg was a real thrill for a lot of them.”

He said another student reminded him of a gift the class gave when he and his wife had their first daughter during his second year of teaching.

“We still have that that gift. It was a little soap dish and all the kids put a put a big card together for Leni and I to congratulate us on the birth of our baby. And we still have the card, pretty rough shape now, but we still have it.” he said. 

Students from his other years of teaching throughout all the public school boards in the Northwest or even the family members of his students have reached out as well, he added. 

“It's kind of an interwoven history,” he said referring to a posting where a former student wrote, “Wow you taught both my parents too….I remember you from Wellington [School] Grade [7]”

Ellwood said this person also remembered the special way he taught students to remember his name, “E, double L, double U (W), double O, D.” 

He said whenever he talks to former students, he always refers to himself as Terry.

“But a good portion of them still call me Mr. Ellwood. It’s funny,” he said with a laugh. 

Ellwood said this experience was a lot more fun than he ever imagined, “especially when you realize that the student had a good experience over the time. It's so nice to hear. And teachers rarely, rarely hear.”

“I always had an expression that teaching isn’t like raking leaves, you can't turn around at the end of the day and tell what you've done,” he said.

Sometimes everybody is so busy, they don't have the time, Elwood said.

“The cliche is, why don't you get a hold of somebody and tell them? But this is a little different way of doing it,” he said.

“And it certainly wasn't done to have kids tell me that I was the greatest thing since sliced cheese. I really wanted to hear from some of these kids to find out how they made out. Most of them have told me that those days were good days for them and things are just fine right now. So it's really a pleasure hearing back.”


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