Newly retired teacher Diane Arentsen smiles as she signs off on her last report cards at Ucluelet Elementary School. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Popular Ucluelet educator retires

“When you work in a small school, you need to work together and we do.”

A popular West Coast educator is waving goodbye to the whiteboard after over 30 years.

“I want to say thank you to all the parents that have supported in the classroom. Parents really play a huge role in their children’s education and so many parents have come forward to support us,” Diane Arentsen told the Westerly News while signing her final report cards at Ucluelet Elementary School.

“The staff has been most supportive and it’s been a great crew. When you work in a small school, you need to work together and we do. We do a good job, we may not all believe in the same thing all the time, but we band together and we all have one common goal: the kids. We all strive to do our best to provide the best education for our little guys that come through here.”

From the pulpit of her Grades 1, 2 and 3 classrooms, Arentsen has been encouraging Ucluelet’s youngest minds since moving to the community from Port Alberni in 1985.

“I wasn’t considering it to be long term. I thought it would be a couple of years and then we would move on but we both loved it so much that we decided to stay,” she said.

Born and raised in Port Alberni, Arentsen said she was initially reluctant about moving to a smaller community, but the welcome she received when she arrived in Ucluelet erased her hesitance.

She added her two kids, Alana and Brent, were both born on the West Coast and grew to love the community as well, a point proven when they were both high school students and she asked themif they wanted to move to a bigger city to enjoy more amenities.

“They both looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “Why? We love it here,” she said.

She said the closeness of the tight-knit community led to a fuller understanding of her students.

“You know the families. You get to know them really well and you know why ‘Johnny’ is having a bad day or why ‘Susie’ is really happy today,” she said. “You just have a better perspective of what’s going on in their life, rather than just their school life, so you’re more prepared to teach them.”

She said UES had roughly 300 students when she arrived and its enrolment has fluctuated over the years.

“We had far more support for our students in those days. We had far more teacher’s aides in our classroom,” she said. “Physically our building has changed as well. I’ve seen portables come and go and classrooms change into computer labs and kitchens and then change back into a classroom.”

The school now has about 230 students and Arentsen said the needs of those students are evolving along with the community, where the cost of living means most guardians are often working and that’sbrought a change in teachers’ responsibilities.

“Children are not in the typical family situation all the time. They spend more time in daycare and more time in school then they do with their parents,” she said. “We’re not just doing reading, writing and arithmetic anymore. A lot of the kids are coming in and just needing somebody to talk to. The role has changed and it’s just broadened in the fact that we’re there as a surrogate parent sometimes…They know we’re here and they can rely on us for virtually anything whether they be hungry or they need a hug or they just need somebody to boost them up a bit.”

Looking back on her career, she said she’ll most fondly remember the “delightful moments” that primary classrooms are chock-full of.

“Often they come from unplanned lessons; spur of the moment discussions that happen or when a child who struggled and struggled and struggled and finally gets it and you see that, “Aha!” look on their face,” she said.

“They are little sponges and they are learning all the time. They are picking up new things all the time and, at the beginning, everything is new, so you get so many of those moments and that really boosts your spirits.”

She added she has felt the rewards of her work watching her former pupils walk across the stage at Ucluelet Secondary School’s graduation ceremony.

“Just to have been a part of that is what makes it all worth it,” she said. “There have been many sacrifices certainly, but to watch these people grow into young adults and the amazing things that they are doing—there are so many of them that have proceeded on to some amazing careers and have come back to talk to me—absolutely, the sacrifice is worth it.”

She said she is “nervously excited” about her next chapter as she heads into retirement.

“I like structure and I like routine and I know it’ll be a big change for me, but I think it’ll be a good one,” she said adding she plans to stay in Ucluelet. “I love Ucluelet. It’s my home…I have lots of friends and lots of fond memories and lots of things I’d like to do here still.”

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