Each student is unique

After a lifetime of teaching, retiring principal Barb Keating will miss two simple things the most.

First: hearing her students sing.

And the second is the magic that happens when she reaches a child through her teaching, that moment when they figure out a math problem or understand how something works.

Barb Keating, the principal at Lord Kelvin elementary school, joins students rehearsing for the school's Christmas musical for an impromptu number. She's retiring and she says it's the kids she'll miss the most.

“It’s the spark you see in their eyes when they’ve learned something. It’s like a light goes on in them,” she said.

Barb Keating retires today after 38 years of teaching and administration. With the exception of her first year, she’s spent her entire career in the New Westminster school district and worked at almost every school.

Her first posting was at John Robson elementary as a resource teacher and her last is principal of Lord Kelvin elementary, about a kilometre away.

Despite teaching hundreds of students and working with so many teachers over the years, she’ll tell you no school is the same.

“Every school has its own flavour and uniqueness,” she said.

“Just like the community or neighbourhood they’re in.”

Economic and ethnic background of students make each school different. And so do the issues found in each neighbourhood.

“A school has to look at what and where the needs of the community are. Like understanding the level of nutrition among students, and drug and alcohol issues,” said Keating.

Knowing the school and community is important, but understanding each child is crucial, she says.

Former student Nadine MacCumber can attest to that.

She remembers a teacher who figured her out when others couldn’t.

“Here I was in a class for kids with behavioral problems and she found out I was dyslexic,” said MacCumber, now 44.

The mother of three recalls being disruptive in class and even throwing books at Keating.

But her teacher showed her patience others hadn’t, and gradually taught her self-control and made her feel good about herself.

“She made me feel confident. She wouldn’t give up on me,” she said.

“She made it so you’d succeed.”

Like the times Keating worked with her one-on-one in class, helping her understand a math problem.

“She would go over it and over it with you until you got it. She found a way for you to understand it.”

Keating says all she did was teach kids to understand their feelings and how to deal with their peers.

“If a child can understand themselves, you’ve created a very empowered person for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Keating doesn’t plan to let her skills stand idle in retirement.

She’ll travel with her husband, but will also volunteer with different groups and agencies in New Westminster when she gets the chance.

That doesn’t surprise MacCumber.

“I told her I’d give her three months and she’d be back doing something with kids.”

mmcquillan@newwestnewsleader.com

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