Thanks so much for being willing to share your story with us, Ed. You may not know this, but earlier this year I sent a request out to all of the Edifide reps. in the schools to ask if they would recommend a retiring teacher to interview, and I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which your colleagues insisted, “You HAVE to write about Mr. T!”
Perhaps you can start by sharing why you decided to become a teacher, and how long you’ve been teaching.
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been teaching for 35 years. Initially when I was younger, I wanted to become a veterinarian, and I went to the university of Guelph to study. I grew up with a love for the outdoors and animals, and it seemed like a good fit. But that didn’t work out, and when I was deciding what to do next, my grandmother told me that she thought I’d be a good teacher because I was very good at explaining things to people. My dad and my uncle were also teachers, and I admired what they did.
Were there certain qualities that you recognized or admired in particular, that you also hoped to take with you into the classroom when you started teaching?
It’s funny—I remember when my dad was sitting at the dining room table working on report cards, I thought it was a fascinating thing. I’ve certainly changed my mind about that!
Probably the thing that stands out the most in my memory of my dad as a teacher is that he was always very supportive of other staff members, no matter what school he was teaching in. The reputation that followed him was that he was someone who would always be there for another teacher in any way that he could be. That’s something I’ve always aspired to as well.
Speaking of your teaching experience, can you tell us about some of the places you’ve taught over the past 35 years?
I have taught at Kingston Christian School (KCS) for thirty-two years. The other three years, from 2006-2009, I taught in a school in South Korea.
I’d love to hear a bit about your experiences in South Korea.
I took a two-year leave of absence from KCS, but ended up staying in Korea for three years. I was fifty years old at the time, and I’d been working at KCS for my whole teaching career, so I thought I needed to do something to shake me up a little bit. My wife and my son James went with me as well, and it was a really great experience.
You have to re-prove yourself once again in a brand new setting, and you have to learn a whole new set of skills when working with students who don’t speak English. Not to mention, it was a whole new culture to live in. It was a very good experience for all three of us.
How would you say those three years of teaching in South Korea influenced your teaching styles and habits when you moved back to Kingston to resume teaching at KCS?
It definitely re-invigorated me, as far as teaching goes. It’s really good for all teachers to be exposed to new ideas, and new ways of doing things.
For example, in South Korea, teaching focused on the International Baccalaureate (IB) method, where students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. I learned how to incorporate the IB program into the junior grades, and that impacted how I taught at KCS when I moved back as well. Now, one of the primary teaching styles being used by OACS schools is Project Based Learning (PBL). The concept is similar in approach to what I learned in Korea—where it’s not just about learning content and teaching information, but you’re trying to apply it to a real-life project.
Having a unique teaching experience in a different country really forces a teacher to think more broadly about teaching styles and about what things are valuable and important in any classroom. I think that had a huge impact on what I’ve been able to stay open to as far as teaching styles and learning trends that we’ve been continually learning about in the past years.
Could you recall for us some of your favorite memories of teaching at KCS?
One of my earliest memories was being overly passionate about creating a skating rink at the school. For my first five winters I would be at the school almost every evening, flooding the rink with a very old fire hose that was extremely heavy!
Other highlights, of course, are the times when we have been successful in the Kingston-area Science Fair, twice winning the Best of Fair prize. We have also won championships in various sports and that is also exciting.
My favorite memories however, revolve around talking with current students, as well as visits from our graduates, and the interactions I have with them in the next stages of their lives. It is also a wonderful feeling when a former graduate enrolls their son or daughter at the school and is enthusiastic about Christian education.
It will be the interactions with colleagues and parents, but mostly the daily interactions with students that I will miss the most, I think.
How would you describe your philosophy of teaching over the years, and how have your students been able to recognize it in your teaching style/habits?
I have three main ‘mantras’ that I have tried to live by. The first is that I will treat each child the way that I would want a teacher to treat my son or daughter. The second is “Every day is a new beginning” so let’s not relive mistakes we made yesterday. The third is “Trust your dreams to God”, He gave those dreams to you and He wants to be beside you, helping them to become a reality. The last two sayings I have posted in my classroom for almost every year that I have taught.
Every year I strive to create in my classroom a sense of community based on trust. I want a place where my students can feel free to be themselves with no fear of judgment. As well, I want my students to intrinsically value doing their best and to learn to self-control their behavior—a student centred classroom rather than a teacher controlled classroom. I have tried to treat students with respect and kindness, and to teach with enthusiasm. I hope that is what students remember about me.
On the opposite side of the coin, what have you learned from your students over the years?
There is an authenticity, enthusiasm and sincerity in their daily lives which is enviable. I have also learned that it is God that can meet their needs, not me, so as much as possible I need to stay open to Him and let Him work through me each day in the classroom.
You’ve mentioned that one of the things you love best about teaching, and one of the things you’ll miss the most, is the daily interactions with students. I’ve heard from one of your colleagues that when graduates come back to visit the school, they make a bee-line for your classroom so that they can re-connect with you.
(Laughing) I think that’s the candy, though. Did she mention the candy in my room? My class always has a celebratory candy at the end of the week, to celebrate “surviving ‘til Friday”. And I’ve told the grads that whenever they come back, they have free access to the candy, so I’m sure that’s part of the reason that they make a bee-line for my room.
I think mostly it’s about building on the trust relationship that we’ve had together in the past. Teaching is a lot about listening, and when you take the time to listen to students you get to hear about things that might seem just day-to-day, but it means something to the students.
If you were to choose two or three adjectives to describe your 35 years of teaching, what would they be?
The first would probably be challenging. When I first started teaching in a Christian school, it was a very “Christian Reformed” school, and I didn’t come from that background. So fitting into the culture of the school, and at the Edifide Teacher Conventions as well, was a challenge for me. If you predominantly have one denomination, they have a certain way of looking at things—and it wasn’t that it was even that much different than what I had—but others had a lot of commonality that I wasn’t a part of. I’d say that was pretty challenging because to feel like I “belonged” took awhile. I found it challenging at the school and at conventions to feel like I had someone I could sit down and talk with or eat with that I had something in common with. Thankfully, the principal at the time really had a vision for making the school more interdenominational, and the culture in Kingston started to change as well—that made things a little bit easier. And over time that has changed in other Christian school communities as well.
The other would be life-changing. Students can smell a phony a mile away, so in order to able to be authentic with students, you really have to stay connected to Christ. I’ve taken my Christian faith a lot more seriously just because I had to be an example in the classroom. So I think just being a teacher is a life-changing thing. You hope that you’d be that disciplined and devoted in your faith even if you didn’t ‘have to be’, but often because I had to be—I’d pray with the kids, lead devotions and teach the Bible—I’d have to talk authentically about my faith to them, and I couldn’t not take care of it.
A few years ago, you did a project interview with a student, called a “Wise Guy Interview”. In the video, the student mentioned that one of the things he appreciates about you as a teacher is that you help students to plan ahead. Specifically, he said that in grade 7 and 8, you really help your students to begin thinking about and preparing themselves for the high school experience.
Here are your words from that interview:
“Every one of us is always going through changes, and we always have something new that we can look forward to. The sooner you get ready and develop skills and abilities and an attitude for that, the more it is going to help you. I think that’s true for everybody. No matter what age you’re at, there’s always some new part of your life that’s coming up—and the more that you get yourself ready for that, the easier the change is going to be when it comes.”
What do those words mean to you, now that you are the one that is looking ahead to a change in your life?
Wow! It’s certainly strange to hear your own advice from a new perspective. I think it will be a challenge for me to discover who I am, aside from teaching. I’ve tried not to let my mind wander too far in that direction while I am still teaching—I want to stay focused and present in the classroom while I’m here—but you can’t help but think about the “lasts” … “this will be the last time that I’m doing a Christmas assembly”, “this will be the last time I’m going on this volleyball trip with the students” …so that’s always in the back of my mind for sure.
What are your plans after leaving KCS? Do you plan to stay living in Kingston?
I can tell you more of what I won’t be doing—planning lessons, marking and report cards!
My parents own a farm in the Brockville area, about 40 minutes from Kingston, and I plan to go down there and help out a bit on the farm. What that will lead to in the future, I’m not sure—whether that will mean a move down there at some point or not. My wife still hopes to continue her work at Queen’s University for some years yet, so we’re happy to stay here in Kinston for now.
You’ve also been doing some work at Queen’s, right? I’ve heard that you are in the process of obtaining your Masters of Education. Did you have a certain goal in mind when you started the program? Any plans for this when you’ve finished?
Initially it was to do with motivation in math. I’ve taught pretty much every grade, and I’ve found that as students go up in grades, their love for math seems to diminish. So my hope was to find new ways to motivate them and increase their love for mathematics, especially in the intermediate grades. I designed a unit that I was then going to teach as part of my thesis process. But I found out that teaching full time and trying to complete a thesis was just too much, so I backed off of it for awhile.
I have finished the courses here at Queen’s University, and have to either complete a thesis or write a project. I haven’t decided on a timeline for this yet, or even what I’ll do with it once I finish. I don’t plan to work on it for the first few months after I’m finished teaching—I need some time to process the changes a bit first. In the fall or winter, I’ll probably think more seriously about re-entering the Masters program.
In talking with others, it became clear to me that some of the attributes that drew students to you were your willingness to invest in their lives, your calm demeanor, and your commitment to prepare them for life outside of your classroom.
Do you feel that these attributes have come naturally to you? Or did you commit to them in order to influence your students in a particular way?
I think part of that is naturally the way that I’m wired. I’m more of an introvert by nature, and I’m also a better listener than talker. I think that those attributes lent themselves towards the role that I’ve played here at KCS. I’ve been able to show the students a different way of being than what is predominant in society around us, and that is to listen to each other and care for each other.
What sort of tips or advice might you give to a beginning teacher?
Find ways of showing kindness to your colleagues and students every day. Greet your students at the door of your classroom every morning and take time to notice a new haircut or pair of shoes. Tell them at the end of the day that you enjoyed spending time with them and that they are fun to be around. Be serious about your professional development and make plans to take real action towards becoming a better teacher.
Well, Ed—or “Mr. T.” as your students so fondly call you—it has been a pleasure getting to know you as we’ve talked. I really appreciate your willingness to share your story with us, and we wish you all the best as you finish your final year at Kingston Christian School. Blessings to you!
The OACS News Service is working with Edifide to write a series of articles that focus on teachers in different parts of their Christian school journey. This is our very first article, which shares the story of Ed Tennant, a retiring teacher from Kingston Christian School. If you wish to suggest a teaching story idea, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Carla at firstname.lastname@example.org.