Now Or Never

'Teaching is a calling': Meet the 101-year-old teaching computers to seniors

Isabella Dryden is over a century old, and she says she hasn't stopped teaching for 81 years.
Isabella Dryden stands in front of her classroom at Creative Retirement in Winnipeg. (S. Thacker/CBC)

Most people retire from their careers and never look back.

But when Winnipeg teacher Isabella Dryden retired after a four-decade-long teaching career, she headed straight back into the classroom — this time as a volunteer.

"When Creative Retirement asked me if I would teach some classes to seniors," she said, "I felt as if a door had opened and that was to be my mission for a few years." 

Little did Dryden know that her volunteer gig would span decades as well. The 101-year-old said that she has never stopped teaching these past 81 years.

"I never gave up that feeling," she explained. "Each day I am happy to be in the classroom."

"Even when I was a little girl, my mother taught me my ABCs and my numbers and how to write my name. I went to school with all this knowledge and then I came home from school and taught my brothers and sisters when we played school."

Something else that pointed Dryden toward a career in teaching was a gift she was given when she was first a student herself.

"I have a very delicate tiny china cup and saucer that my Grade 1 teacher gave to me for something I did at school and I don't recall what I did," she said. "But it obviously pleased her. I have had it now for 94 years."

Isabella Dryden has had an affinity for teachers for nearly a century. She still has a teacup that an English teacher gave to her, 94 years later. (S. Thacker/CBC)

As a volunteer teacher, Dryden soon learned that many seniors are frightened by technology. That's why she's made it her mission to teach them computer skills. She teaches introductory courses and a guide to Microsoft Office. 

One of the first things she tells new students is that they have to "think like a computer."

"You just have to follow the steps. One, two, three, four, five and six if it's necessary," she explained. "But you mustn't step outside of the order. You can't do five before you do one. Everything must be in order."

"We, as citizens, are surrounded by technology," she continued. "You have to push buttons to operate the washing machine, to turn on your television. Even a sewing machine is computerized." 

Dryden also teaches seniors how to use email and how to be safe online.

Isabella Dryden (3rd from left) with her computer class students (S. Thacker/CBC)

She encourages all of her students to develop three things: "One's mind, one's body and one's spirit."

"We have been given these gifts but we don't always use them properly," she said. "I think we have to give credence to our body, mind and spirit and keep it well. If we could do that, I'm sure a lot of the terrible things in this world would cease."

Dryden was quick to say that her students have taught her as well. 

"They have taught me to be more patient. They have taught me to listen to all their ideas. I think I have learned possibly more than the students have learned."

"I never expected — even though I am over a hundred years old — that I would still be able to teach and communicate and enjoy and be here every day," she said. "I've always believed that teaching is a calling and I'm glad I am a teacher."