I was fortunate to know what I wanted to do early in life.
I grew up in suburban Ottawa. My dad was an insurance salesman for Sun Life. My mother was a stay-at-home, mom. Despite not having much money, they always found a way to save so that I could go to YMCA camp in the summer. It was there that I realized that I loved helping kids learn every bit as much as I loved learning new things myself. I knew I wanted to become a teacher. This belief was cemented when my older sister Sandy went away to Queen’s University and later become a teacher. I have always admired my sister very much and hoped that this would also be my path.
Years later I experienced one of the proudest days of my life when I received a letter of acceptance from Queen’s University. I knew that I had taken a huge first step, but there was still a long way to go.
During my freshman year at Queen’s, I entered the (then) new Concurrent Teacher Education Program at the Faculty of Education. Unlike the one year Bachelor’s in Education, it gave students four years to study education within the walls of academia as well as practical, hands-on experience in various schools, classrooms, and grades while working concurrently on their undergrad degree. The program also gave us four years to reflect upon whether we truly wanted to become teachers.
Many of us in our formative years were told to “Get a good education, hard work and you’re future will be yours”. This is true, to a point. You also need some luck, what might be called, “preparation meeting opportunity”. Call it what you will, you need mentors to help guide, encourage and inspire you on your life’s journey.
I was fortunate to have had many wonderful mentors during this important period of professional growth and development; Jim Robson at Central Public and Jan Hartgerink at Centennial School, to recognize but a few of the supportive, encouraging teacher-mentors helped me immensely.
It was during this critical time that I was placed in “Section J”. I was the only male student-teacher in what would have been an all-female class. Our Section Leader was professor Clair Bailey. Throughout those four years, Professor Bailey always made himself available to talk with his students about their concerns or problems, be they academic, or personal. Perhaps his greatest gift to his students was his ability to listen. He read between the lines to try and allay our fears and celebrate our triumphs. In time, the title was dropped and he became “Clair”.
Clair introduced us to the beautiful world of children’s literature by sharing many rich examples of this genre. He cultivated in us a deep understanding of the critical role that literacy plays in the development of young people and in our broader society. He inspired us with professional stories and personal anecdotes that allowed us to connect with him beyond his role as a professor. Clair challenged us to take on the mantle of life-long learners. He wanted us to fully comprehend the value of a public education system in democratizing knowledge and opportunity for the young people who would be in our charge. These ideas have stayed with me throughout my decades as a professional educator teaching many thousands of different students in classrooms throughout Canada. I was humbled to learn that he regularly followed my career from afar.
On October 14, 2016, I was deeply honoured to deliver the Duncan McArthur Queen’s University Homecoming Lecture at the request of my old Alma Mater. What gave me immense pride was being able to thank many of my mentors personally; my sister Sandy, Jan Hartgerink, John MacPherson, principal of Kreterklerk School in (then) Eskimo Point, Professor Mac Freeman and Clair Bailey.
I was saddened to learn that Clair died on April 6th, 2018 in Kingston, Ontario.
I wish that others who pursue a career in education might be so fortunate as to have a mentor like Clair Bailey.
Thank you, Clair, I will always be grateful that you were such an important part of my life. You planted seeds in me that have been resewn countless times with thousands of others I have known. Your life mattered, and you helped me understand that mine would too. I can’t imagine a greater gift a teacher might give to a student.