Joan Jewison has mixed feelings about her upcoming retirement.
While it's a huge milestone, the educational assistant says after more than four decades of working with students, it will also be sad to say goodbye.
"It's been 41 years of seeing these kids every day and being able to interact with them. That's going to be over, and I am moving into a new chapter and I think that I'm going to be wondering how they're doing," Jewison said.
Jewison is deaf, and CBC News interviewed her using an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.
The educational assistant works with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, individually and in small groups, at Northern Secondary School — one of 10 sites with a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). The board estimates it has around 1,000 deaf and hard of hearing students.
Jewison says interacting and communicating with children has been the most rewarding aspect of her career.
"I love the storytelling, that's my favourite part, and I love seeing children using sign language," she said, adding that she hopes the number of people who use ASL, and who want to learn it, grows.
Going above and beyond
Prior to working at Northern Secondary School, Jewison worked at The Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf, which has since closed. She described the school as having a "strong Deaf community."
Many say Jewison has had an impact on many families and teachers in the Deaf and hard of hearing community through countless school initiatives. Back when accessible materials weren't as readily available, she created elaborate educational productions in ASL for students.
Uton Robinson, executive superintendent at Learning Centre 1 with the TDSB, worked with Jewison at The Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf. Robinson was principal at the time. He describes Jewison as a "wonderful educator."
"I see an individual who has dedicated her entire life to students, deaf students specifically," Robinson said.
He says it's important to the board that deaf students are learning in an inclusive environment.
"The support that Joan and others bring to students, ensures they have a place within the centre of our schools," he said.
Hibo Abubaker Ali was one of the students Jewison assisted at Northern. Abubaker Ali heads to Seneca College in the fall to study early childhood education. She says she's following in Jewison's foosteps.
"I want to work with children like her when I grow up," she said.
The TDSB believes Jewison is its longest-serving deaf staff member. Abubaker Ali says that accomplishment, alongside the rest of Jewison's illustrious career, will continue to inspire people even after the educational assistant leaves the classroom for the last time.
"Some people think deaf people can't do things but I really look up to Joan and recognize her as a deaf person who signs and has full communication with us in the classroom," Abubaker Ali said.
"For any other deaf kids out there, I would say you could do the same thing, too."