GREAT TEACHERS PART 3: Community leaders share their favourite teacher stories

We hear about great teachers from the past who thought outside the box

With the benefit of time and life experience, most adults can remember at least one grade school teacher who stood out among the rest and impacted their life for the better.

Mine were in the field of music (thank you, Keith Fraser) and phys-ed (likewise, Ed Ashmore), men who laid the groundwork for lifelong interests in both areas.

In our Great Teachers series, offered with partners Staples and Thrifty Foods, we encourage readers to nominate their favourite teachers for special recognition. Today we’ve asked community leaders to share experiences with educators from their past.

We hope their stories resonate with you and prompt you to think about teachers from your past.

Lillian Szpak, City of Langford councillor – I was an Air Force brat and we moved around every two to three years. My Grade 7 teacher at RCAF Centralia (Ontario) was Mr. Heimrich. He stands out for me because he encouraged me to write creatively and to write poetry. He treated me like an adult, as if I had something to say that could affect others. He really shaped me that way. He was a very candid person and would joke about what was going on at home, so he was real to me. Teachers in my era were authoritative, but he was so different. Having the freedom to write what you want and how you want, and to share that without being judged, was really outside of the box.

Guy Dauncey, Victoria author, sustainable futurist – “I was at a boarding school in England (from age 13 to 18), and the music master there, his name was Tony Brown, was by far the greatest inspiration to me. Not only did he give us the greatest musical education, on Friday evenings he would invite us over for tea and talk philosophy with us. He would ask us things like, ‘Do we have free will?’ and however we would answer, he’d proceed to point out precisely why the opposite was true. The lesson was, you’ve got to think things out for yourselves. We didn’t have any other classes that went remotely near (talking about) philosophy or the big questions of life, and the realization that the big questions don’t have black and white answers.”

Tania Miller, music director, Victoria Symphony Orchestra – I grew up in a farming community of 1,000 people (Foam Lake, Sask.). In high school I had a social studies teacher named Ian Cooper who had an incredible passion for people and history. He had a big impact on me for the way he taught us about being a member of society and passionately following our dreams. He  also started a band in our school and taught everyone to play guitar. There was that side of him that embraced the arts, which appealed to me, but he taught us to be passionate in a variety of different ways. I think the profound thing that he did for all of us was he made us want to be the best we could be. As a result of his impact, and other teachers, I’d say probably 80 per cent of our class went to university.

Frank Leonard, mayor of Saanich –  I attended nine schools in my 12 school years since my father’s employer transferred us around B.C. I often didn’t get involved in school activities since I hardly knew anyone. However, my senior high school years at Mount View High on Carey Road in Saanich were terrific and I attribute that to principal Don Smyth and vice-principal Ken Brown. They ‘recruited’ me into activities like student council, refereeing the student/teacher soccer game, reading the morning announcements and running the Miss Mount View pageant. I loved being active, yet it was the support of Don and Ken that made it happen. I credit them with the experiences that gave me the confidence to later become involved in our community.

Adam Olsen, interim B.C. Green Party leader – I was only ever in one of his classes, Grade 11 math at Stelly’s, but the example set by Peter Mason has always resonated with me. I remember him saying, ‘One year I’m going to take a class of students to Mount Everest’ and I remember it reverberated through the school. People had to think about ‘what is Everest?’ It’s the highest peak of human achievement. And they went. I remember he came back and said ‘I’m going to build a climbing wall,’ and he was one of the people responsible for the development of Boulders Climbing Gym, which continues to have a huge impact on our community and on our kids in Central Saanich. It’s always had a very, very significant impact on me. It’s about setting a goal, no matter how impossible it may seem to be, then going out and getting it. It’s a great analogy for life.

Nominate your favourite teacher online

• Tell us about the teachers you feel are making a difference in schools. Visit and click on the Great Teachers nomination icon. Nominators are eligible for a draw for a $50 Thrifty Foods gift card.

Previous in this series:

GREAT TEACHERS PT. 2: Parents appreciate excellence in teaching

Special teachers make a difference around Greater Victoria