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Edmonton teacher retires after 46 years in the same class: ‘I feel like I grew up in this room’

Edmonton teacher retires after 46 years in the same class: ‘I feel like I grew up in this room’
Friday wasn't just the end of the school year for a beloved Edmonton teacher, but the end of a long, fulfilling career not just at the same school – but in the same classroom. Carole Anne Devaney caught up with Randy Smith as he cleaned out his Vernon Barford Junior High School classroom for the very last time.

There have been many changes at Vernon Barford Junior High School since 1974. But one thing has remained the same: the teacher in room 126.

While most educators will transfer schools over the span of their careers, Randy Smith — or Mr. Smith — has chosen to stay put, spending more than four and a half decades in the same classroom.

“I have seen so many changes in the 46 years,” Smith said. “I don’t know how many principals I’ve lasted through. I remember doing attendance… it was on a piece of paper and now it’s all by computer.”

Read more: ‘She was a rockstar to us’: former students say goodbye as Edmonton music teacher retires after 43 years

Now the time has come for the industrial arts teacher to say goodbye. Smith made the difficult decision to retire just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and schools were shut down. This is not how he imagined the final months of his career.

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“I should have kids running all over the place,” Smith said. “This is so surreal. To finish my career, not having any students in my room, and then leaving, it’s difficult.”

Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith retires on June 26, 2020.
Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith retires on June 26, 2020. Courtesy, Courtney Blyth

The building is bursting with memories, and it has truly become a second home for the 68-year-old.

“I lived every day to come to work, to work with kids, to teach them how to do something,” Smith said. “As much as the students grew, I grew with them. I learned so much from them.”

Read more: Educators learning to evolve as technology, social media changes teaching

Smith remembers the countless school ski trips, sports tournaments and concerts he helped organized.

He also remembers meeting the love of his life at Vernon Barford. Glenda Wagner was the home economics teacher. She taught across the hallway and the two worked together for 15 years before she passed away in 1998. A memorial bench was erected in front of the school in her honour.

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Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith sits with his daughters on a bench dedicated to his late wife.
Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith sits with his daughters on a bench dedicated to his late wife. Courtesy, Courtney Blyth

The couple’s passion for teaching made the career path clear for their two daughters.

“For sure we both went into teaching because of him, and our mom, and we wanted to follow in their footsteps,” Chantal Loose said.

That’s why it came as a bit of a shock when their father announced he was officially retiring.

“This was supposed to happen when I was graduating high school in 2007, and it’s now 2020,” Courtney Blyth said.

Smith estimates he’s taught more than 20,000 students over the course of his career. His wife of 17 years says that makes going out in public interesting and fun.

“We do not go anywhere that he is not recognized. And he remembers them all. It’s amazing,” Tana Donald said.

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As he transitions into the next chapter of his life, Smith said he looks forward to playing more hockey, travelling and spending time with family.

While his time in the classroom is over, his passion to lead and inspire will carry on.

“My teaching is not finished. My teaching is finished in regards to being in front of students, but now I’m going to pass on to grandkids.”

Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith retires on June 26, 2020.
Vernon Barford Junior High School teacher Randy Smith retires on June 26, 2020. Courtesy, Courtney Blyth