Beloved Gonzales preschool teacher moving on

Frances Deas has helped hundreds of young children ease into school life

Frances Deas

Frances Deas

Kids say the darnedest things, and Frances Deas has heard it all.

In more than 30 years working with young children, the Gonzales Co-operative Preschool teacher has heard some of the most unintentionally hilarious things come out of youngsters’ mouths.

“I had one little boy who told me that he saw a picture of an old, old man who had no teeth, and he said ‘oh, look at that, he’s bald inside his mouth!’” Deas said.

It’s a classic example of the unique perspective of a child. “They’re building their own notions with the world and their language.”

Deas’ first notion to become a teacher came at age six, when a teacher inspired her to follow the same path.

Deas taught for two years in her native Scotland before coming to Canada. Her journey eventually took her to Salt Spring Island, and when her husband’s job necessitated a move to the “big island,” she wound up at Gonzales preschool, in the basement of St. Philip Anglican Church.

After eight years there, she’s calling it quits at the end of this month. While she still has plenty of enthusiasm for the job, Deas said it’s time for somebody else to take the reins.

“I think probably ‘retire’ is not the right word. I’m just going to do something different. I don’t think my work with early childhood is quite finished yet, but it was time to turn over the school to somebody else.”

That work has not gone unnoticed by parents of Deas’ students, who have planned a send-off for her at the school today (June 17). Many of the more than 120 families who have been involved with the school during Deas’ tenure will be there to pay tribute to the woman who they say has had a major impact on their lives.

“She is just a great asset to the community, not only for kids, but for parents,” said Shannon Carmichael, whose son, Ian, attended Gonzales for two years. “She sets a great example of how to teach. She does things so gently and so lovingly. She’s an incredible role model for parents.”

For Geoff Parker, who’s had three children attend the school, Deas’ departure is bittersweet.

“I think it’s great for her. I don’t think it’s great for kids and families that want to be exposed to her,” he added with a laugh. “She’s certainly a very special, gifted person.”

The important role of the parents at a co-operative preschool like Gonzales, which sees at least one of them helping out in the classroom every day, is not lost on Deas.

“It adds community, and it adds a learning place for parents too, and it adds the full connection between children and parents. And it means that parents are a part of their children’s education,” she said.

A humble woman who at times seems somewhat overwhelmed to be the focus of such adulation, Deas has some simple, but essential advice for anyone following in her footsteps.

“It’s hard work,” she said, “but the rewards are huge.”