At the tender age of six years old, Isabella Dryden walked home from the small school house that fostered her early love of education, marched right up to her mother, and told her that she would be a teacher when she grew up. Now, at the capable age of 94, Dryden has not only made a career of her love of learning, but has spent her life in constant pursuit of knowledge. Oh, and she’s still teaching.
“I knew what I wanted to do at six years old and I never wavered,” she says of her 76-year career as an educator, the last 29 of which having been spent as a volunteer educator at Creative Retirement Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Dryden began her teaching career in a one-room school house at Errol, [Manitoba,] near Lenore, after having completed a one-year elementary education program at the Winnipeg Normal School. For the next few years, she hopped around from schoolhouse to schoolhouse as she was needed.
In her mid-twenties, a short (and deserved) hiatus from teaching landed her in Ontario with an Executive Secretarial Diploma and a position as a chief librarian’s secretary, though she felt the strong pull of education tugging on her heart strings and inevitably returned to the classroom, both to learn and to teach.
In 1949, the educator was invited to teach at Virden Collegiate Institute, where she remained until 1967 when she captured the opportunity to become the Manitoba department of Education Supervisor of Business Education. In the years following, she returned to the classroom to test a business curriculum, acted as the Manitoba Department of Education’s Business Education Consultant and provided leadership as a Curriculum Consultant for Business Education, Home Economics, Industrial Arts, and Vocational Industrial Education, all the while, attending evening and summer courses to keep her knowledge base up to date.
“Anyone who is in education surely realizes that one must keep up to date in order to serve the young people and older people. There are so many developments out there, you have to stay apprised.” But her thirst for knowledge benefited not only her knowledge base: “Each course added something to my mental development, yes, but also to my spiritual development.”
In I983, Dryden retired, but her career as an educator did not stop there. Presently, she teaches three to four times a week, instructing retirees to use the computer.
“I just love to teach,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what age level you teach, it doesn’t matter whether they’re in kindergarten or grandparents, they’re all the same. Teaching is teaching, people are people—they have all the same characteristics, they’re only just at different age levels.”
Spending “a great many hours studying and writing up the curriculum and writing working manuals for the students,” Dryden still spends the majority of her time immersed in education, though she is also very active in and around her home complex in Winnipeg, sitting on committees and volunteering at the library next door. “I just volunteer wherever I can to help keep the activities in our building moving along.”
A benevolent woman, Dryden says she inherited the generous traits from her family, especially her grandmother Dryden. “My grandmother Dryden was a very caring person and had a wonderful influence on my life; she was always helping and lending a hand. My parents were the same, always reaching out a hand for someone to hold on to.”
Life experience also shaped her nature—as the eldest of five, she and her eldest brother adopted much of the familial responsibility when her father passed at an early age. “It made us better people, having to chip in like that,” she recalls.
Perhaps it is also why she never struggled with discipline in her classrooms. “I found that the easiest way to discipline the class—because children are children and grown-ups are grown-ups—is that if you’re teaching a group and you sense something is wrong, just stop talking and stand there quietly, looking at them. All of a sudden, their little eyes, or adult eyes, are fastened on you and you have their attention again. I never had any difficulty with discipline.”
Through it all, however, Dryden remains ever humble. “I don’t think anything I’ve done was illustrious,” she says at the notion; “I’m just Isabella. It was just me growing up and going through the various age levels of life. It’s just been a wonderful journey full of the natural joys and sorrows that come to one’s life.”
“I only hope that wherever I’ve been and with whomever I’ve worked with that I’ve left it a better place. I think that’s why we’re put in this world—to make it a better place, even if it’s only in that one small place where you are.”
Published in the Virden Empire-Advance. March, 2012.