Column: Lesson in respect passed along

The indelible memory of my 12-year educational journey, pre-college, came during its final steps, as I shuffled off the stage at my high school graduation ceremony, my right hand clutching a diploma.

In the front row, a few chairs to the right of the stage, sat my Grade 12 English teacher.

The enthusiasm, the pride he felt for a milquetoast teenager – a mop-haired kid who fused into the high school’s cream-coloured walls during his four years there – was palpable.

“Good on you, Mr. Landreville!” he shouted through his thick Eastern European accent. “Good on you!”

This teacher’s features were as rich as his personality. White hair that looked like cotton balls formed a frizzy ring around his otherwise bald head. He had thick lips, pale skin, and a prominent nose towing glasses that through some miracle clung precariously to the tip of it. He alternated between what I believed to be the same rumpled pair of brown and grey suits. The man was a grizzled veteran of the education wars, and he earned respect, maybe not from each and every one of his students, but definitely from his peers. 

On my graduation day, he seemed much more excited about me surviving high school than my folks were (I wouldn’t say I lived in a broken home, but the cracks were visible). 

He made an impression on me simply because he cared. 

But aside from a few bright moments in his classroom, I was a ghost in my high school, and I’m certain a fair number of my teachers in the mid-’80s would have been at a loss if asked to place a name to my face. 

Really, I wouldn’t have blamed them.

For my favourite high school teacher, and for the dozens of dedicated, passionate teachers I’ve encountered in Langley, Maple Ridge, and Chilliwack during a career in journalism that has spanned 23 years (and, hopefully, counting) I feel a degree of sympathy as the labour dispute between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the government drags into August.

Most teachers don’t choose their profession to become rich.

The average teacher’s salary in B.C. is about $72,000 a year, not exactly chump change, but reasonable considering the amount of schooling required to become an educator. And teachers’ pay in this province starts as low as $38,000.

In my experience, I’ve seen most earn their salary; I’ve also found that they’re not infallible. Like any profession, there’s the good, the bad, and the apathetic.

My Grade 6 teacher lost her composure one winter’s afternoon, swiping my books, papers, and lunch off my desk. Then, with an exasperated howl she pushed the front of my desk, with me attached to it, sending me careening backwards. The back of my head bounced off the classroom floor. Upset about the clutter I worked around every day, she ordered me to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on the floor. 

Three years later, I watched my Grade 9 French teacher dissolve at the front of her classroom. 

Incessant heckling of a few children, led by a bully who resembled the love child of a female version of Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Newman and the toothless hillbilly foil from Deliverance, got to her. She was reduced to tears.

There are teachers who weather this kind of abuse from children, and a few obsessive parents. But the majority of them plug along, searching for that payoff, of seeing the “light” come on, the satisfaction of knowing they passed along knowledge that found a way to stick in a kid’s grey matter. 

That’s why they teach. 

That’s why they’re role models to many. 

That’s what makes the job they do so important.

And that’s why I still hold fond memories of my beloved English teacher.

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