As a young girl, growing up in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Ruth Armson was an avid reader. She read whatever she could, but the selection was limited by her rural circumstances.
“I read all the Jack London books,” says Armson. “I went to a small country school and that’s what they had in the library.”
London’s tales of Northern adventure dug a hook into young Armson and she bided her time until she had a proper reason to make the journey North to the Yukon.
Meanwhile, she became a teacher. The phrase “born to teach” could not be applied to a better person. “Ever since I could talk, I wanted to teach,” she says. “My father wanted me to take a secretarial course, but I had to tell him that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Armson’s father relented and she was given the opportunity to live her dream. She was only 17 years old when she began her teaching career.
After a short stint, cutting her teeth in Manitoba’s schools, Jack London’s promises of adventure and excitement got the better of Armson. In 1967, she drove an old Nash Rambler up the Alaska Highway and arrived in the Yukon.
As you might expect from somebody who is so inspired by books, Armson’s teaching passions tended toward the arts. “I taught a lot of Social Studies and Language Arts. I taught English and History and Journalism.”
One of the things that Armson came to appreciate about the Yukon was the degree of freedom she had as a teacher to explore her own ideas and design her own projects.
“I always had all the help I needed, and great support from my principals,” she said.
Here is one such example of her innovative curriculum: “We did a simulated archeological dig. Groups of students made up different fictional cultures and then they created artifacts specific to their culture.
“There was one artifact for entertainment, one for transportation and so on. Then we would learn how to conduct an archaeological dig and we would allow each group to bury their artifacts and dig up the other groups’ artifacts.” The students loved it.
Perhaps what Armson is most famous for is the drama club she started at Jeckell Junior High.
“I directed over 50 plays and wrote three of them,” said Armson. Her favourites included an adaptation of the Robin Hood legend and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Shakespeare.
This is particularly impressive when you consider that Armson had no formal training in theatre. It is even more impressive when you consider that Armson sometimes needed to cast up to 80 people for a production and “it was all extracurricular”. It is proof that teachers are still capable of inspiring their students.
Now Armson is retired and has been for 11 years. When questioned about how she fills her days, Armson proves that she has a bit of a flare for the dramatic. She hesitates for just a moment, as if she were having a hard time thinking of anything, and then she launches into it:
“I was president of the Yukon Teachers Alumni Association, for eight years; I introduced a mentorship program for emerging teachers; I work at the Arts Centre; I’ve tutored and mentored; I’m scribing an autobiography for a senior citizen; I run a writing circle for seniors; I do scrapbooking and photography; I love to read; I went to Antarctica; I go for lunch with friends; I love New York and I love cooking.
Despite all the books Armson has read, it seems she still doesn’t know the definition of “retirement”.