As my kids go back to school and I meet their great teachers, I thought about the three teachers that were a profound impact on my life. (both professionally and personally) I saw a video by Neil DeGrasse Tyson that mentioned that if you ask people how many teachers impacted their life, they would probably think of two or three immediately. It seems I’m no different. You can watch his inspirational video here.
When I started to think about the great teachers and what they taught me, it turned out that a lot of the lessons were applicable to teams.
This post is dedicated to those teachers that ‘changed me in fundamental ways’. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says: “If you can light that flame in the student, that is half the work”
In chronological order:
Grade 10 – Mr. Kasian – River East Collegiate
Grade 10 was a challenging time for me like other students. First year in high school and I was trying to figure out where I fit in. Mr Kasian was my Mathematics and Computer Science teacher. It is absolutely no coincidence that my career is now in Software Development. Mr. Kasian employed charisma, humour, and passion in all of his lessons. Most importantly though, he had a true passion for the subject and his students. I remember that Mr. Kasian was the first teacher I felt truly cared that I understood what he was teaching. Due to his efforts I made the Honour list for the first time and never left it after.
“Before I care about what you know, I need to know that you care”
I also believed I also found my positive attitude in that Grade 10 Mathematics class.
I still remember Mr. Kasian teaching us the three ways of long division. I asked him why we couldn’t just learn the best way and forget the other two. I remember his response as if it was yesterday. “Because you wouldn’t appreciate it”. That answer that reinforces a work ethic still resounds with me today.
Lesson: Passion and caring are the foundation to success and successful teams. Humour also doesn’t hurt. This all comes down to your attitude. You attitude can make you successful.
Grade 12 – Mr. Dentry – River East Collegiate
Many people who had Mr. Dentry might be picking up their jaws off the floor now. Mr. Dentry was a tough but fair teacher who taught Physics and did not dumb down the lessons. He was traditional. Some of his students failed and students had to put in extra work to pass. But he prepared us for the future. He thought beyond getting people just to pass his class. His perspective was about preparing us for university. He got us thinking about what we would be doing after his class. He understood that people need a challenge to grow.
He gave people zeros. And that was the best lesson some of us ever had. He taught us about consequences and how to apply ourselves when challenged.
But you know what I remembered most about Mr. Dentry? I remember many people failing tests, but at the end of the year I remember almost every single one of us improving and passing. His focus was on challenging us and helping us meet that challenge. Even if that wasn’t the easiest path.
Lesson: Context and Consequences. Mr Dentry gave us the context of where we were and what we needed to achieve if we wanted to be successful after Grade 12. He also clearly, I mean vividly, defined consequences if we didn’t study and apply ourselves. He also showed me how you work with teammates to help them grow.
University – Professor Peterkin – University of Winnipeg
After the lessons of high school and early university, I was getting great marks and was scheduled to graduate quite handily. Then I got Professor Peterkin in my thesis course and he provided a different lesson. He showed that isn’t good enough that you are bright and can solve problems and create awesome code. It is important to be professional in all aspects of how you present yourself and communicate. That is a critical requirement. I handed in my first assignment and got a 61%. 61%?? I was on the honour role and this was my major! All the marks deducted were for what I thought was nitpicking:
- small grammar errors
- capitalization errors
- not leaving a space after commas and leaving two spaces between words.
Seriously? But the lesson was that just knowing the answer wasn’t success. It was knowing the answer and being able to present it completely and professionally.I keep thinking back to how I was complimented at my first job on how I communicated and how my written, presentation, and communication skills were of high quality. I have Professor Peterkin to thank for that.
“The English language is the most important language any Computer Scientist knows”
Lesson: Professionalism and attention to detail are as important as competency. They are the way people perceive you and your work.
Passion, Caring, Great Attitude, Context, Professionalism, and Attention to Detail. That is what I really got from those great teachers and the Math, Physics, and Project course. And that wasn’t even on the curriculum.
I hope my children have teachers as impactful as I have had.
I had heard Mr Peniuk passed away some years ago. I remember feeling sad that I never had a chance to tell Mr. Peniuk how good a teacher he was. Mr Peniuk was my Grade 11 and 12 Chemistry teacher. Like Mr. Kasian, I felt Mr Peniuk truly cared about us. I also remember getting my first 100% on a test in Grade 11 in his class. I was starting to excel in Grade 11 and Mr Peniuk really engaged me in his class. He encouraged me as I worked on problems and when I got that first 100%, I remember feeling that I could learn anything, Mr Peniuk’s class gave me confidence that carried me through my career.