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Reflections on three iconic teachers in my life

Submitted by sgrainger on

Last week, I wrote about life’s happy and sad happenings seemingly arriving clustered in threes. I chose to focus on three positive things that occur in the final term here at Trinity College School.

Holding onto the thread of the power of three, this week, I wanted to pay tribute to three of my former high school teachers, from Ashbury College, who recently passed.

Now, as you can imagine, it has been a long time since I was a high school student (in fact, I graduated in 1983). In my high school, when any of us heard the words “stand still, laddie!” from a well-recognized voice, we all came to an immediate stop, regardless of where or when we were on campus. It could be in the hallway, lunch lineup, chapel, opening day, midday, closing day – anywhere, anytime. We stopped. We froze. Dreading that the command was directed at one of us, knowing we were likely breaking a well-known school rule at the time.

Of the three iconic high school teachers of mine who have died in the past few months, one of them was the aforementioned, “stand still, laddie!” teacher. For lack of a better term, he was well known and respected as being the school disciplinarian; he ensured uniforms were worn properly, students used the proper surnames when addressing teachers, and he seemingly single-handily represented the school’s mission statement and daily expectations for students. A sergeant major-type figure, but to be clear, he was beloved by graduation day and beyond. A man whom students admired for his unwavering commitment to the standards of our school.

The second teacher, I fondly remember for his keen attention to index cards or “cue cards.” He believed that all his students, as they began high school in Grade 9, should know how to properly research and write an essay. He went on to write books on the topic, too. All students were issued a recipe box-sized case filled with index cards. He would instruct his students on how to go about forming a proper research question, developing a skeletal outline and then recording their notes on cue cards according to a systematic numbering system that enabled a structured, logical, organized and properly referenced written thesis. On more than one occasion, he scattered my cue cards because of my failure to use the proper numbering system; it was a lesson well-learned. To a great extent, I attribute my formal educational writing ability, both while a student and in my present position, to this man. He also role modelled dedication to one’s profession and living a life guided by a moral compass; and, early on, he championed the responsibility of each individual to reduce their carbon footprint.

The third teacher, who I remember particularly fondly, was the “older, wiser, deliberately slow moving and universally revered” English teacher and football coach. From my perspective as a kid, this teacher had presence and poise. In the classroom, it was a jacket and tie; on the playing field, it was a whistle around his neck. When he walked or spoke it was deliberate. When he threw a football in practice, it travelled with a perfect spiral. When I first met him, he was likely in his early 30s but he carried himself like a wise, senior statesman of the school.

All three of these former teachers I respected; each one of them had a unique impact on my life for different reasons. I also had the distinct pleasure of working with and calling them by their first names, as a colleague, when I returned to teach at my old school. As a result of being both a student and colleague, I have quite a collection of memories of these three outstanding men.

But, one thing more than any other stands out for me: each of them were teachers to the core. They recognized the vital importance of a good education – a liberal arts education. They believed that adolescence was a critical and transformative time in a person’s life; the lessons learned – academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually – at this stage, provided the foundation for living a purposeful and meaningful life.

While in high school, I put these three gentlemen on the proverbial pedestal and I could see that they were wholly committed to kids and the school. Later, as a fellow teacher and colleague, I could see that they were good humans deeply committed to their craft and their students. And, they modelled lives of purpose and meaning.

I credit the three of them, and several other of my former teachers, as major influences on my ultimate decision to move into the profession which I continue to love.

They will be missed and forever remembered.

May they rest in peace.