Mr. Melville is a social science teacher at Garneau who has recently reached his 26th year of work at the TDSB. To learn about his time at MGCI and his thoughts on education, The Reckoner had a chat with him.
How long have you been teaching at Garneau?
24-25 years, I spent most of my teaching career here. I graduated from the University of Alberta in 1985, started teaching in Fort McMurray, and then I decided to come to Toronto when I lost my job. I did my masters at U of T and started supply teaching in Scarborough, and then I came to Garneau.
How have you seen students, teaching, and education change over the years?
In terms of students: different faces, same problems. And they’ve added technology. Teaching has changed with the growth of technology in all the classes. When I first started it was mostly the chalkboard, computer screens that had the green font going across them, and as for the Internet – what was that? Students have always worked hard, just in different ways. Now that there’s so much information at their fingertips, they work harder trying to find the information via technology instead of going through the tediousness of books. The school has grown so much; the staff was small and we all knew one another. I came the year after the name change. I remember how dances used to be so important in this school and each department had to supervise a dance. Every kid wanted to go. I remember the old school when we had no classrooms and walls were just sliding curtains. You could hear what was being taught – or not being taught – right next to you.
You teach history now, when did you make that switch?
About 12 years ago, it was a gradual flip. I was split between history and math, and now I have full time history with civics and economics.
Do you have a favourite memory of MGCI?
I remember when I first started the awesome foods program we had. They had fresh baked bread. There’s going on the field trips with students and having the odd student come back and say I was awesome. I can’t list favourite students because there’s way too many.
So you’re retiring in about two and a half years. What are your plans for when you retire?
Two and a half years is tentative, but that’s the current plan. I’ve bought a condo in Florida so I’m envisioning going down there mid-November and not coming back to this cold country until April sometime. When I’m in Canada I’d like to supply teach, if at all possible, and keep in touch with the students. The students are the only reason I know anything about technology what so ever. I think I’d miss the students, but I won’t miss the administrative work.
Why did you become a teacher?
When I was in high school I actually had really good marks in the sciences and math. My guidance counsellor pushed me to go into the sciences, even though I had always wanted to become a teacher. So I went to university and found out that physics is hard. I dropped physics, got a conditional pass in chemistry, and my career in the sciences died. I liked economics and switched into it. Then in second year, I thought it was really boring. I finished my degree in economics and math and went on to become a teacher, thus fulfilling a life-long dream.
Do you think there was a particular teacher than inspired you?
I had two teachers, my math teacher who was awesome. The only reason I knew math was because she threatened to hit us with a stick, but she was awesome. My English teacher who was the meanest woman I have ever met but she taught me a lot. It was her that inspired me to travel as much as I have because she would talk about art, culture, and the world.
Do you think that the integration of technology into the school and curriculum has been on par with the integration in the workplace and real society? Are our schools making a good enough use of technology?
No, we need more technology in schools and more up to date technology. In an ideal world, every student should be hooked into a laptop so we can access anything we want in class. And it’ll never happen because there simply isn’t enough money and this is one of the things I feel that we’re failing the students on.
What other changes would you like to see in our school?
I would love to go back to a four period day and would want fewer students. It’d be great to have better technology because no one waits two and a half minutes for their computer to log in. Those are really the only changes I’d like to see.
How do you feel about the curriculum you’ve been teaching? Has it been lacking?
I would like to see Canadian history go a full year, maybe Grade 10 and Grade 11. I think that students should first focus on Canada. If you look post World War II so much of Canada is tied into the world that much world history can be connected to Canada.
It can be but do you think that focusing so much on Canada has students lose a bigger perspective of the world?
I think that there’s so much in Canadian history to discuss and I think that if students were properly motivated they would see it as exciting as it is. This would require an effort on part of the teacher to bring it in and make students informed citizens.
How else has curriculum changed over the years?
I know that in Canadian history we used to start from the 1890s to WWI and now we start at WWI. The methods of teaching and evaluation have changed. The approach to changing math has completely changed; I wouldn’t know how to teach it anymore. Before there was a lot of drills and that’s not the way they do it anymore.
What do you think is lacking the most right now in the Ontario education system and how do you think it should be addressed?
I think that society has come to expect education to be everything and to do everything for everybody and schools can’t be like that. I think we need to refocus our schools on what is most important to ensure the success of future generations. There are so many programs and we try to address so many needs and it’s ineffective. We should focus on what we truly need to move forward in this country.
As an economics teacher, what do you think we truly need?
I think there are a lot of inefficiencies in education. Is what we are offering students truly effective and at what cost? And I don’t think so.
Where do we go from here?
Burn all the schools down and we’ll go to the river where you can write your answers in the mud with a stick. Teachers should be experts in whatever subject they teach and we should focus on getting the most excellent teachers who are passionate about teaching. They should enthuse children about learning and build a generation of well-educated Canadians that care about the country and progressing.
Is that the biggest problem with children today that they aren’t enthusiastic about learning?
It’s a concern, but that’s always been the case. My dad dropped out of school at the end of Grade 11 and that was in the 1950s. School doesn’t appeal to everybody.
Any final thoughts or messages?
I can honestly say that I can’t think of another school that I would have rather spent the last 25 years in. To students: keep working because somewhere in the end it will be worth it. To teachers: good luck.