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Reflecting on a Legacy: GNS’ Beloved Jill Graham Retires

Junior School
GNS teacher Jill Graham

As we enter the final term of the school year, the GNS community prepares to bid a heartfelt farewell to one of its beloved educators, Jill Graham. 

Having joined GNS as a Kindergarten teacher in 2005, Jill’s journey reflects her passion for teaching and her commitment to the growth of every student under her care.

Jill Graham

Jill’s career in education did not follow a predetermined path. Unlike many educators who feel the calling from an early age, Jill’s decision to become a teacher crystallized during her university years, influenced by her experiences working with children as a camp counsellor. 

She began her career as a gym and French teacher in 1987 at a school in Eastern Canada, and it was then that she noticed a desire to become a classroom teacher where she’d be able to nurture bonds with students more closely. That led her to teach classes of Grade 3 boys. 

She then took 12 years away from teaching to focus on raising her children. Jill started at GNS in 2005 when her youngest was in Junior Kindergarten. 

“I filled in for the teacher that was sick for a half term, and then I got asked to do the one-year job, and then I’ve been here ever since.” 

Jill’s tenure at GNS is marked by countless memorable moments, but it’s the emotional culmination of each academic year that resonates profoundly and emotionally with her. 

“The last day of school, you look down the line at your kids as you sing Oh Canada and you just bawl because you have to let them go. You become so attached to them over the course of one year,” said Jill with tears in her eyes. 

When questioned about the primary focus of her teaching approach throughout the years, she highlighted how important it is to establish deep connections with every student.

“Find out what makes them tick. Of course, with 18 kids there are 18 different connections so find out their passion, encourage the value of community and nurture their self-worth and self-confidence,” she said. “Give them a reason to get up every morning and come to school, and envelop elements of fun as well.”   

Jill’s ability to navigate the unique needs of each child, ensuring they feel valued and understood, has been essential to her teaching ethos. The post-COVID era she notes, however, has introduced new challenges in engaging students, requiring educators to be even more inventive and empathetic in their approaches.

“I like to sit with them. I sit at a different table every lunch and I just ask lots of questions. Part of the inquiry learner profile is learning how to ask open-ended questions, not just yes and no questions, so as a teacher I try to do the same thing.”

Jill also considers GNS to have been a part of shaping who she is on a personal level. “I have gratitude for every single opportunity that has come my way. Every new thing you do brings a whole new world, learning curve, new people and new opportunities. I really do believe this school has taught me how lucky I am.” 

“Here is where my family is,” she explains. “I’ve been through tragedy and everything, and they have definitely been my family.” 

Jill reflects on the challenge of making the decision to retire. Many of her peers assumed that she might relocate right away to be closer to her sons who all live out East, but she plans to remain anchored to the GNS community for a few years following her retirement. 

“I’m scared of the unknown a bit, but the immediate plan is my son is getting married in Ontario in September so I’ll be there for a bit. I’ll come back in October and substitute for a while, and be with my GNS family. But in a couple of years, I will move back.”

Jill Graham’s legacy at GNS has shaped the hearts and minds of future generations. Many alum of GNS consider it a badge of honour to have had her as their teacher. As she steps into retirement, her lessons have been academic and life-enriching, and will continue to resonate within the walls of GNS and with the students that will remember her forever.