Retiring from 32 years teaching at Houston Christian School, Jean Guenther is most well-known for her music.
“Music is for everybody. We are created to make music,” she said.
“It’s community building. It’s a discipline like no other, so complex. No matter how long you make music… there is always more to learn.”
Miss Guenther has been making music since she started violin lessons at age six.
By the end of high school, she completed her Royal Conservatory exams for grade 10 violin and grade six piano.
Though she taught music in schools since 1972, she got her Kodály diploma in music education during summers 1986 to 1989.
Miss Guenther grew up in Chilliwack and went to Trinity College for two years, and then University of British Columbia for two years to get her education diploma.
She says there were lots of teachers back then, so graduates went to as many interviews as they could.
“You don’t even know what district it is, you are just hoping to get a job,” she laughed.
With 25 interviews, Miss Guenther got a call saying she was accepted to teach in Terrace.
While on the phone, she searched her map for the town.
“Terrace… Terrace… Terrace. Oh, here! My, that’s a long ways away from Langley!” she said.
Driving there, Miss Guenther says the highway got more narrow and feeble the farther north she went.
“I thought, ‘Oh my, I hope there is some road left by the time I get to Terrace!'” she laughed.
Miss Guenther says she taught in the Terrace school for two years, and it was crowded.
Built for 500, the school had 600 students, and her first class had 37 grade seven students crammed in.
“There was hardly room to fit between the desks and blackboard,” she said.
Next, she went to Rennell Sound, Haida Gwaii, where she taught ten students in a one-room school house.
There for four years, Miss Guenther says it was “the most westerly school in Canada,” and it was rainy.
On one of the rare sunny days, she decided to go to the beach. She raced around the 12 trailers of the community to collect the students in their swim wear, but by the time she finished, it was raining.
“West coast, wet-coast!” she laughed.
From there, Miss Guenther moved to the then-packed Topley Elementary School, where she taught four years.
It was there she developed her love for skiing.
Diane Strimbold was a teacher there, and Miss Guenther says her family was “instrumental in making cross country skiing big around here.”
The school owned a shed full of skis, and P.E. students would buckle into skis and circle the community for their exercise.
After Topley, Miss Guenther took a job at HCS.
One thing she has loved there is “the opportunity to be blatantly Christian,” and express the personal Christian faith within the curriculum.
Throughout her 32 years there, Miss Guenther has taught nearly every combination of grades from one to six.
For her, one highlight from the early days is school concerts in Houston and Smithers, which included all elementary and high school students from both towns.
The concerts also included an orchestra, where Miss Guenther played violin with her violin students and other musical students from Smithers.
The Burns Lake Music Festival was also big in those days and sometimes HCS sent 20 students to participate, said Miss Guenther.
She has loved organizing dramas and Christmas programs, and has two goals with those events.
First, she wanted an educational program for the audience and students, and second, she wanted every elementary student have a moment to shine.
She sought to give each child a task according to their ability so they could have their moment.
“It would be such a personal triumph for me when some person actually spoke clearly into that mike, or got the overhead switched at the right time, or remembered to take out the triangle to play… All of those little things,” she said.
Miss Guenther also loved teaching math and is well-known by her students for drilling the multiplication chart.
Students would race against their past record, seeking to beat their previous time and number of correct answers.
Miss Guenther says it is partly about motivation, but also about repetition.
She learned at university that the average person needs 40 repetitions of anything to make it permanent.
“If they don’t know it, they obviously haven’t gotten enough repetitions,” she said.
“That is how you develop skills. Anything where you develop skills, you have to repeat and repeat until it becomes automatic. Then it becomes a building block to use for higher things.”
Not against problem solving, Miss Guenther sees multiplication is a building block to enable students to solve practical math problems.
When she reflects back on the years, Miss Guenther says one things that has changed is the level of independence teachers have.
In the early days, teachers took care of things themselves, from painting classrooms to dealing with difficult students.
Technology has also been a big change.
“It’s supposed to save your time, but it doesn’t for the most part,” she said.
For her, the most rewarding thing is seeing a student change for the better.
“It has been so special to see some students, who have been so extremely self-centred and rebellious, change,” she said.
But overall, Miss Guenther says schooling has not changed all that much.
“There are always those who try very hard at not working and not learning, but there are always those who profit, who are teachable and make the most of the opportunity to learn,” she said.
As for teachers, she says they have always been very dedicated at HCS.
“I have great respect for all the teachers I’ve worked with over the years,” she said.