Beloved educational assistant who worked with deaf students retiring after 41 years with the TDSB


Joan Jewison has mixed feelings about her upcoming retirement.

Although a milestone, the teaching assistant says that after more than four decades of working with students, it will also be sad to say goodbye.

“It’s been 41 years since I’ve seen these kids every day and been able to interact with them. It’s going to be over, and I’m entering a new chapter and I think I’m going to wonder how they’re doing,” said Jewison.

Jewison is deaf and CBC News interviewed her using an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

The Educational Assistant works with Deaf and hard of hearing students, individually and in small groups, at Northern High School, one of 10 sites with a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) . The board estimates that it has about 1,000 deaf and hard of hearing students.

The Toronto District School Board recognizes Educational Assistant Joan Jewison’s decades-long career before her upcoming retirement. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Jewison says interacting and communicating with children has been the most rewarding aspect of her career.

“I love telling stories, it’s my favorite part, and I love seeing kids using sign language,” she said, adding that she hopes the number of people who use the ASL and who want to learn it will increase.

To go beyond

Prior to working at Northern Secondary School, Jewison worked at the Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf, which has since closed. She described the school as having a “strong deaf community”.

Many say Jewison has impacted many families and teachers in the Deaf and hard of hearing community through countless school initiatives. In times when accessible materials were not as readily available, she created elaborate educational productions in ASL for students.

A class photo from the 1990s, when Joan Jewison worked at the Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf, which closed in 2015. (Submitted by Joan Jewison)

Uton Robinson, executive superintendent of TDSB Learning Center 1, worked with Jewison at the Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf. Robinson was manager at the time. He describes Jewison as a “wonderful educator”.

“I see a person who has dedicated his whole life to students, deaf students in particular,” Robinson said.

He says it’s important to the board that Deaf students learn in an inclusive environment.

“The support that Joan and others give to students ensures they have a place at the center of our schools,” he said.

Uton Robinson is the Executive Superintendent of TDSB Learning Center 1. He worked with Joan Jewison when he was principal of the Metropolitan Toronto School for the Deaf. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Hibo Abubaker Ali was one of the students Jewison helped at Northern. Abubaker Ali is heading to Seneca College in the fall to study early childhood education. She says she is following in Jewison’s footsteps.

“I want to work with kids like her when I grow up,” she said.

The TDSB believes Jewison to be its longest-serving deaf staff member. Abubaker Ali says the accomplishments, alongside the rest of Jewison’s illustrious career, will continue to inspire people even after the teaching assistant leaves the classroom for the final time.

Hibo Abubaker Ali is attending Seneca College in September to study Early Childhood Education. She says she was inspired by Joan Jewison. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

“Some people think deaf people can’t do things, but I really admire Joan and recognize her as a deaf person who signs and communicates fully with us in class,” Abubaker Ali said.

“For all the other deaf kids, I would say you can do the same too.”