On Becoming a Teacher
After completing my undergraduate degree in Music in 1978, I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to devote 100% of my time trying to make my mark in the music industry. So, I stayed in Windsor for a few years to work.
I got a job working at a local drug store – Bryson’s Big V. There were about 130 Big V stores spread across southern Ontario mostly concentrated between London and Windsor with their headquarters in London. Windsor had 5 or 6 such stores, but Bryson’s was close to where I lived. It was a good job, really… I got to drive the delivery car! I’d spend most of the day on the road, delivering prescriptions (mostly) and other household products to customers all over the west end of Windsor. Most of the customers were elderly and on a fixed income but, fortunately, their health insurance covered the cost of their medication and so they were charged only 35¢ per prescription.
The car was a white 1977 Chevy Nova. It didn’t have a radio but I got permission from the store manager to install the one that I had rescued from my Simca prior to its untimely demise. It took a bit of tweaking, but I did manage to get it in and working. It certainly wasn’t a professional installation, but it looked pretty good and, since I was the only one to drive the car, no one else really cared! In the mid-90s, Shopper’s Drug Mart bought out the Big V chain – securing for itself the position of largest drug store chain in Canada!
After a couple of years of building up my cash reserves, I decided to return to school. In 1980, I was accepted into a new interdisciplinary program at the University of Windsor that combined music and dramatic arts. The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre gave me a chance to make use of my music degree and afforded me the opportunity to test my thespian skills! Because I had already taken some of the music courses and was not required to repeat them, my work load those first two years was a bit less than the other students. I did quite well, considering my meager acting skills – and I made the Dean’s List my 2nd year.
After two years in the program, I made an interesting discovery. Apparently, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) from which I got my student loans, would only fund you for seven years. Well, I had done 4 years in music and now 2 years in music theatre, so I had only 1 year of eligibility left. The BFA program was a 4 year degree, and there was no way I’d be able to afford that last year on my own since my cash reserves would run out long before then. So, I made yet another in a series of life-changing decisions.
In an effort to make myself marketable within that one remaining year of OSAP eligibility, I decided to become a teacher. I applied to and was accepted into the Bachelor of Education program offered through the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education. I had never before wanted to teach music, and I didn’t particularly want to teach music then either… but I was 28 years old and my prospects for a bright future were growing thin. Since teachers were fairly well paid, I was on the verge of becoming financially secure in a well-respected profession. It was a win-win situation for me!
The Bachelor of Education was a one-year professional degree program – the prerequisite for which was a 4-year degree from an accredited University. Upon graduation, you received both a B.Ed. degree and an Ontario Teacher’s Certificate. Both the B.Ed. and the OTC were necessary to teach in any school in Ontario… and, because of the prerequisite, Ontario schools were pretty much guaranteed that their teachers had an undergraduate degree in their specific field of expertise. The specific courses you took at the Faculty of Education depended on whether you wanted to teach in the elementary or secondary school system. I wanted to teach high school… I didn’t have the patience to work with little kids! In addition to the regular course work, we had 4 rounds of practice teaching, the first round lasting 2 weeks, and each of the other three lasting 3 weeks.
My 1st assignment was at a rural school in Leamington – home of the Heinz company! There was a big tomato thing as you entered town proclaiming, “Leamington – Tomato Capital of Canada". I was quite nervous that first round as I was totally inexperienced. I lost my temper more than once because, for some reason, I had expected the students to know as much about music as I did… and, of course, they didn’t. But, I got a good report at the end of the round and I was pleased with that.
The Leamington Tomato
The Leamington Tomato
My 2nd round was at Essex District High School – another rural school. More confident now because of my earlier training, I had a great time at EDHS. I received an excellent report from the music teacher, Tony Malkowski, and was invited back to guest conduct at the school’s final concert that year.
The 3rd round was completely different. One of the other students fell ill and could not complete her remaining practice teaching assignments. I was asked to step in and, instead of a high school, do a practice round at Hugh Beaton Public School. The school, like all elementary schools, did not have an instrumental program but instead had a vocal program. While I had two rounds of practice teaching under my belt, this was my first time teaching vocal music… and, despite some initial trepidation, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The students were receptive to what I wanted, and I received an excellent report from music teacher, Stephen Snider.
My 4th and final teaching round was at Assumption College High School – a Catholic school just up the road from where I was living. There was no being nervous this time; I was confident and eager to show off both my teaching skills and my classroom management skills. It was at ACHS that I learned an important lesson from the music teacher, Henry Boon. I had been somewhat lax about returning from lunch – it’s not that I wasn’t there on time for afternoon classes… because I was, but Henry thought I should be in the room at least 10 minutes prior to the start of class. He said it gave you time to sit, relax, reflect on what you did yesterday, and plan for how you’ll change it today. I owe Henry a debt of thanks! His advice has served me well for many, many years.
I graduated with straight A’s in May, 1983 and, within a few months, was hired to teach instrumental music at Sharbot Lake High School that September. It was the start of a new era in my life… an era that would end under unusual circumstances followed by yet another life-changing decision!