Q: What do you teach?
A: At present I teach Geography. Initially, I was hired to teach math and ESL.
Q: How long have you been teaching here?
A: That was nearly 25 years ago.
Q: Tell us what your first impression of Garneau was like?
A: When I started teaching here, the building was half the size of this today. Right? That in itself led me to the impression I got. The students at that time, we were getting a lot of immigrants coming, and most of them were refugees. So they were coming from these war-torn countries, and they had a lot hardships settling in. But the students were really keen on learning, and I enjoyed teaching them. The only problem at that time was that the students, because of their background, because of their experiences, they tended to cling towards their own group. And as a result of that, we had racial problems within the school. That was my impression at that time, it was a tough school to teach at. But the kids were okay.
Q: How has that impression changed over the years?
A: Now the building has been expanded. We have classrooms with walls now! So now we have more privacy. We started having more collaboration among the departments, like we broke down the barriers. I don’t see that much racism anymore, it has gone. That’s a plus.
Q: What is one of the most interesting things that you have experienced as a teacher?
A: There are lots of interesting things! I remember last semester, a parent came up to me at a parent-teacher interview, and the parent looked at me and said, “Mr. Persaud? You taught me in school! You were my teacher!” And he was so happy, and he came and he hugged me. Lo and behold, he was a student of mine… and now he has given me his son to teach.
Q: What are you going to miss most about teaching?
A: I will miss the students most of all. I get attached to them emotionally…. [laughs quietly]. I used to come early in the morning for students, and we would chat and talk. We don’t talk about schoolwork, just “how are you doing,” and that in itself, lends itself to a kind of relationship I have with the students: I am a partner in their learning. I like to do that, I like to incorporate whatever is out there, and help push students to learn. I like to be involved in that. I’m going to miss that part.
Q: You seem to really care about the students. What inspires you to teach?
A: The moment I started teaching, it started to pull me in. I realized that this was what I wanted to do. Because I was from a rural community, I knew all the parents in the district and I knew their children and they started to have confidence in me and I realized that I had to to live up to a certain standard. A lot depended on me. They trusted me to teach their kids. And that by itself made me want to stay in the job.
Q: Do you have any regrets about how your career has turned out? Would you change anything?
A: I don’t think I have any regrets. I would do the same thing again. A lot of my colleagues thought that I was a good candidate for administrative work, but I always resisted that. I never wanted to be an administrator. I would never change that. I want to be a teacher and… that would be my greatest regret, that my time has run out because of age.
Q: Any summer plans?
A: I’m going to relax as soon as I retire. Take a little break, travel a little bit. You know I am from Guyana, South America, right? So I still have my place there. I’m scheduled to go there as soon as school closes, maybe [on the] second week of July? I will spend 2 months there. You know, going to the Caribbean is a lovely way to relax.
Q: We’re going to move onto a few fun facts now. What’s your favourite food?
A: I like to eat fish. Any way I like it. I also like vegetables, which is strange. People like to eat meat, right?
Q: All kinds of vegetables?
A: All kinds. My lunch is really salad every day.
Q: What’s your favourite place in Toronto?
A: I don’t like crowds. Remember, I come from a kind of rustic, background, rural area. Toronto is a really crowded place for me. I like to wander by the waterfront. It has a calming effect on me.
Q: A pet peeve about students?
A: When I’m lecturing to my students, I like absolute attention. I get very upset when they’re going into their bags, or they’re asking their friends for a pencil or something. I want them to listen to me. The other thing is that when they have work to do, they like to procrastinate. For us here, we have x number of hours per day, and I want them to finish their work so they have time to relax. They like to relax first, then do their work.
Q: Do you have a farewell message for students?
A: We have a wonderful school, and we need to cherish that. The students are really great. What I’ve learned over the past 25 years as a teacher, you make the students feel at home. If you respect them, they will respect you. As teachers, we have to be partners in the learning process. I want [the students] to know I’m learning with them. I subscribe to a psychology known as constructivism. If I don’t know much about [a topic], I wouldn’t tell my students what I know. We would find out together. Each one of us would bring new information and share it. I would like teachers to facilitate the learning of the students, not be standing up there and be giving information. Students have a lot to offer, so we must help them structure their learning. We have a wonderful school. I have learned a lot from our students. Many of them think they learn from me, but I always learn from them.