The past week has been a time of deep sadness at Greystone Centennial Middle School. Our school community, and the teaching world, lost one of its bright stars. While we may not ever understand why our beloved Jolene Cote was taken from us so suddenly and tragically, it is my hope that the sharing of my message from Jolene’s funeral will inspire others to follow the example Jolene set for how to be a teacher whose influence has made such a difference in the lives of those she touched.
Good morning Mike, Ayden, Adison and good morning to all of Jolene’s family and friends. I am honoured to be speaking to all of you today on behalf of Jolene’s Greystone family.
When I was thinking about Jolene and what I might share with you this morning, I kept asking myself this question: How is it possible to have known Jolene for only the past three years and yet to feel like I have known her forever?
I stumbled across a song – posted recently on Facebook – from the Broadway show Rent called Seasons of Love. The words helped me find an answer to this question…
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?…in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife, in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year in the life? How about love? What about love? Talk about love. Measure in love.
For our Greystone family, five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes times three years is a lot of moments, a lot of memories and a lot of love that adds up to feeling like a lifetime spent together with Jolene.
I feel like I have known Jolene forever because she squeezed every ounce of possibility out of each one of those moments she spent with us. That woman could fit more life and more love into one day than most of us could fit into an entire week. Yet she never, for a second, made any of us feel that she didn’t have the time to be with us – I mean really be with us – in that moment…no matter what was going on around her. I have listened to students and staff talk about their memories of Jolene, and from my time spent with Jolene, these things stand out:
She made us feel like we have known her forever because she cared for each one of us so deeply. She made time to get to know us. She cared about the people in her life and no matter what was going on around her – she put people first.
For students, she made learning as engaging as she could. She took you places – French restaurants, the art gallery, career fairs, the mountains, the zoo, Quebec (where she even rescued some lost young ladies on a souvenir shopping trip as they tried to find Old Montreal)…so many places. She brought experts in to speak with you. She posed questions that got you thinking and debating about issues that are important in our world. As Parker Palmer states in his book The Courage to Teach, one of the truths about teaching is that intellect works in concert with feeling, so if we as teachers hope to open up our students minds, we must open their emotions as well. Jolene worked tirelessly to try and do this every moment she was with her students.
The moments, the minutes, the little things that add up to a lifetime of love shared. The love Jolene shared for her students showed up in the little things she did – the noodle soup she kept on hand for you in case you were hungry; the lotion she gave out for your dry skin; the sharing of stories about her family life; the one on one talks she had to help get you reaching your potential. One of her students shared with me that Mrs. Cote always treated every day as a new beginning. If there had been a problem or a conflict the day before, she started the next day fresh and did not ever judge anyone because of a mistake they had made.
She pushed you hard so that you would become the person she thought you could be – and she never gave up on you – especially if you were struggling and needed that extra conversation. She made sure she was always there for you, every moment of the day.
For our staff, Jolene was fun, funny, bright, thoughtful, caring and giving. She never had a mean word to say about anyone – no matter how challenging a person had been. She only spoke positively about each of us and she always made the time to give a message of support. She took part in everything at our school and outside of our school with sports teams and fun times together as a staff. She supported her colleagues in learning, researching, putting together projects for students and sharing ideas. In speaking with her teaching team, I discovered that it was the little things, the details that Jolene looked after, that contributed to their collective effort – the busses she booked, the permission letters she wrote, the schedules she organized. Jolene set the example for how teamwork should happen for teachers. When I asked her what the secret was, she shared that every individual needs different things in order to be successful – you just have to know what each person needs and then make sure you give that to them.
Jolene loved learning – she was committed to it, made time for it and even after all her years of teaching, she never stopped learning and growing in her profession. She was always keen to keep up on technology. She wanted to keep learning about teaching through inquiry and to use critical thinking with her students to deepen their level of understanding. She was never too busy to spend time modeling for students and colleagues what it means to be a lifelong learner.
And she helped with all the extra things we do together as a school community – everything from coaching our teams to holding hot dog lunches to raise money for the Quebec Exchange to dying her hair pink to support cancer research to bringing her family out to our annual Pasta Palooza Community Dinner to support our playground development. Jolene made time for it all.
We loved having her bring her sweet kids into our school. She shared her life and the most important people in her life with all of us. We are grateful to have had the moments with her wonderful children. Ayden and Adison, like your beautiful mother, you brought us so much joy through your moments spent with us. Ayden, the smile your mom had on her face every time she was leaving to pick you up from the bus and walk you through our school as she asked you about your day. I don’t know if you both know how many stories your mom would share with her students about you and your dad…like how you found your new pet snake out by your house and that you weren’t too excited, Adison, about having to feed it live animals…or how your mom wanted to take a video of the monkeys at the zoo for you when she was on the school fieldtrip. No matter what she was doing with our kids at school, she was always thinking about you, Ayden and Adison – thank you to both of you for sharing your awesome mom with all of us.
And to you, Jolene, our school is a better place because of the moments you spent with us. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure our three years? …in smiles, in laughter, in lessons taught, in conversations shared, in stories told, in assignments marked, in fieldtrips and phone calls, in questions asked, in projects presented, how do you measure it all? I measure it in love. You gave us a lifetime of love at Greystone, Jolene. Your memory will live on forever in our hearts and we will live better lives because of you. Jolene, our teacher, colleague and friend – you have taught us well. You have reminded us to be learners, always, to always put the people in our lives first, to make the most of each and every precious moment we have and to give of ourselves to others. We will remember the moments spent with you and we will measure them in love. God bless you, Jolene.
Jolene’s friend and teaching colleague, Bruce Kolody, summed it up perfectly when he said:
There is one star that is shining brighter than all the rest. Thank you, Jolene, for looking down on us. A shining star in our lives and now in the night sky.
~ Carolyn Cameron