Mr van Bemmel. Photo: Susie Liu

Mr van Bemmel. Photo: Susie Liu

Q: You were a butcher before you became a teacher. What experiences from your butcher career have you carried over to education?

A: The most viable thing was just the amount of work you had to do, I mean it was very typical to work between 80 and 100 hours a week when you had your own business in this situation. And I think that when you do that for 10 years, you get used to that kind of culture. So I think that’s something I’ve tried to work into this. For some reason, I found myself almost more tired in the teaching profession than I was at the end of day, you know I guess it was more of a mental job than a physical job, I don’t know. And I’ve been able, although recently, regrettably, you can’t do it the same, but bringing and having the meat day demonstration, and I thought that was really fun, to be able to bring some of the things from my own life into the students’, that’s always a pleasure to do.

Q: So you’re a very outdoorsy person. Why and why hiking?

A: I don’t where it came from. I always think that my parents picked up the wrong child at the hospital because my interests are quite diverse from my family. But as a boy, we used to walk amongst the fields and local farmland where we lived. But my parents were not outdoorsy whatsoever, so there was no support for that. But my friend was. So when I told my story, had a little more time, I began to pick that back up about in 1987. Why hiking, I guess in the end, it’s probably the easiest activity you can do fairly easily. There’s a fair amount of trails available now, so the options are comparatively easy. If you’re going to do other things, it tends to be more complicated or more expensive or whatever. And I enjoy the exercise.

Q: What part of terrorizing AP physics students do you find indulging?

A: [Laughter] I believe that, all the kidding aside, I think that the pressures that are on AP physics students really well decide where they are going to go. And from my standpoint, their responses to the different stresses, or where the amusement comes, because young people on almost every level are the best entertainment when they wish to be.

Q: What advice would you give to the average Garneau student?

A: Get emotionally involved with your studies and work as hard at whatever interesting subjects you have, that play into you, as hard as you can, and build the best possible life for yourselves.

Q: How long have you been working at MGCI?

A: This is my 18th year.

Q: What courses do you teach at Garneau?

A: Right now? Over the years I’ve taught a lot of math, as well as general science. But for the last while I’ve primarily been teaching the AP physics course, the Astronomy course, the grade 11 TOPS physics and the gr 10 science – that’s been primarily my undertaking.

Q: What is the most interesting experience you’ve had at MGCI, student-wise and staff-wise?

A: Hmm. Takes some thinking there…I’m not trying to be political here, I must tell you that over the past 18 years I’ve met some of the most remarkable people, first with the student body… And all those experiences are really special, you keep them in your mind and you can’t really catalogue them and I’m not really big on saying this or that was the big deal. Staff wise, back a few odd years ago, when Mr. Hussey and myself and Mr. McMaster got together to take on the TOPS program and how we built what we have today, that’s probably my most profound professional experience.. the creativity and the amount of work you had to put into that… I think was pretty, probably the most satisfying professional experience.

Q: What’s the best snack for a long hike?

A: I’m not a snacker to be honest with you. When I go on a trip on my own, I have at breakfast maybe two lunches and a dinner and I don’t really nibble. That’s probably an atypical approach, most people would use gorp or something like that, but that’s never been my approach.

Q: How did you jump from the meat business to physics, and why physics?

A: I always had an interest in astronomy and things like that, over the years as a boy, even quite involved, when I was six or seven years old. And so this always maintained itself throughout my time, and when I was in my own business I didn’t have time for that. But in the late 80s, the regulations changed and it was going to make it quite expensive to operate given what you make on the deal. And the other thing is, the physical business, the meat business, in many ways is a young man’s job. When you start getting a little older, it’s a little bit harder to get up in the morning after and knowing that’s what you have ahead of you in order  to put food on the table. And so I was at a crossroads. I was fortunate enough to not have any dependence at the time, and so I was able to pretty much make my own decisions and I was very lucky to have held that privilege. At one hand I kinda thought it was too late, I was 31, and my mom was like, well, see if you can get in. And sure my mom was pleased, she would much rather me work in a more professional environment than work for a living so to speak. So I was fortunate enough to get in and fortunate enough to do well enough to end up here.

Q: If you could go back in time and have a conversation with any one person, who would it be and why?

A: Hard to say, you know, you know people by their reputations. Most people would choose some, you know, wise person or whatever. On the other hand it might be nice to meet an ancestor that you never really got to know, hear their stories intermediary to your family. I don’t know because I think when you meet people personally if you don’t have a lot in common, you’re really enraptured by an image, whether it’s a sports hero or a historical hero and I think sometimes the folks who are everyday.. it’d be interesting to meet some people who did make some changes  and see what they’re really like and all the rest of it.

Q: How many identical white shirts do you own?

A: Seven.

Q: Seven? Is that one for each day of the week or..

A: And then two for redundancy.

Q: Has your pocket protector ever gone missing or do you have 7 of those too?

A: No you buy them in lots of five, and I’ll remind you of pocket, you buy them in groups. [Pulls out pocket protector] This one’s already showing the wear and so I will probably replace it pretty soon, with an identical one of course. This is used because shirts are expensive and all you need is one ink stain on your pocket and your shirt’s garbage. So it’s essential, not to be a nerd, generally speaking.

Q: What do you think is the single biggest mistake that students at Garneau make?

A: This is a great school there’s a lot of wonderful people here who teach here and care about the kids, believe me. All I can say to students is you come everyday prepared to really learn whatever you’re willing to learn at whatever level you’re at. It’s got nothing to do with smart you are, it’s gotta do with how you make up your life. There’s a lot of people who’ve had trouble in school and they went out and made a million bucks. If your main job is to goof around, well it’s going to catch up to you some day.

Q: What secretive business are you up to all the time in SRC?

A: We’d like you to think we’re administrating the TOPS program… I’m going to leave it at that.

Q: In your opinion what’s the worst part about AP physics?

A: You have to decide if you’re going in this direction there’s an adjustment to what is expected of a high school student in the physical science/engineering field. And to what a professor will expect of you. And that doesn’t have to occur for you to be successful. You can do that in university and there’s fewer people to help you or you can do it here where there’s comparative support. This also about how you go there to flourish. So I guess you have to decide where you want to make that adjustment.

Q: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

A: In ten years I’m probably going to be really close to being done here. As to what I’ll be doing after that it’ll depend on my health and circumstances as to what I’ll be able to continue. I’ll certainly look forward to more measurements with the telescope and so on. I want to maintain my career here and the things that we do as long as I can. I want to make sure that when I’m finished, that I’m finished. And then I’ll move onto the next stage, whatever that looks like… I won’t be coming back. When I move on, it’ll be a time  for me to do another thing and let the people coming after me to do their job.

Q: You have a really fantastic assortment of ties. Where do you get them?

A: Well that’s really quite interesting, I probably started with about 15, and on a couple of occasions we encountered a store where the prices were reasonable and they had some excellent themed ties and we bought those, but I’ve gotten quite a number from students over the years too. And so a couple of years ago my wife gave me a tie holder that has a motor on it, so there’s about 80 of them now, and I’m running out of space, so to be clear I don’t need any more ties. I make sure I wear them in sequence, so they don’t get worn out, so most ties only appear twice a year. I wear a few themed ties on certain days for certain purposes, so beyond that – I even have an Uncle Henry tie, a student got me that too.

Q: Do you enjoy fast food?

A: I have a weakness for French fries, my favorite fries right now are Montana’s.

Q: Do they tend to change often?

A: Well the companies change their recipes. My favorite fries used to be The Keg’s. Harvey’s fries used to be pretty good too, 10-15 years ago. Now, I have to be careful, because my doctor doesn’t think it’s a good idea. (Chuckle)

Q: Is there any food you wouldn’t try?

A: I’m a bit less adventuresome when it comes to these things. I’m pretty busy, so often the same things every day because I’m more interested in getting things done than worrying about all the extra preparation. That’s probably why I sometimes do eat out because I’ve got a lot to do and I don’t want to mess around in the kitchen. I know this particular meal is appealing to me, be it Swiss Chalet or whatnot, so I can mark papers at the restaurant or think about something and not have a mess in the kitchen.

Q: What was the single most disastrous moment while out camping or hiking?

A: I walked off a cliff once, fell about twelve feet in the dark, I was lucky I didn’t get really badly hurt that time. I’m pretty careful when I’m out there, I remember going, before I had a checklist, you’d go on a trip and you’d forget your pillow or sleeping bag and a few other things until you were properly organized. I really don’t have any true disaster stories because I don’t go into the forest looking for some life-threatening, rather the opposite, really. I don’t mind the physical challenge, but I’m looking forward to coming home in one piece. Pay attention to what you’re doing, and be well-enough organized that you’re not hanging by a thread.

Q: As someone that used to be a butcher, what is your stance on the ethical issues surrounding the meat industry in terms of animal rights, conditions, etc?

A: Those issues have always existed, and there will certainly be a segment of society that believes we shouldn’t be processing animals in any strife for human consumption, that’s existed long before I was in the meat business. And democracy, so those people are entitled to their opinion. What I will say, is that in to the 90s and beyond, and this is in North America, the animals are handled more humanely than ever, not necessarily because of animal rights purposes but because we find there’s a better product. So in the animals win, if they’re going to win in that situation, so to speak. The reality is, there’s a significant portion of society that wishes for meat in their diets, and the businesses provide that, under the control of the governments.

Q: Have you ever watched Breaking Bad?

A: No.

Q: It’s about a high school science teacher, much alike yourself in both stature and appearance, who decides to pursue a criminal career producing methamphetamine in order to make ends meet.

A: Well, I have no interest in that. I think the main thing here is that I don’t want to do anything ever to allow my students to feel disappointed in me. I try to go about my day in a way such that I ask a lot of them and I ask a lot of myself and I hope I don’t ever make a mistake that would cause them to be disappointed in me.

Q: Do you have a favorite book?

Most of the books I read are biographies or technical books explaining something, I read about 20-30 of those a year, once in a while I’ll read a novel just to mix things up.

Q: Do you follow any sports?

A: Yea, I’ve been interested in sports. I guess the two that most interest me are hockey and baseball I would think. In the sense of the professional world. I had a cursory interest. I’m a Toronto fan. So if the Raptors do well, I’m really happy for them but basketball probably doesn’t mean quite as much to me. But I’ve followed hockey since I was a boy. And I’ve always enjoyed baseball and so I tend to follow the fortunes of the Blue Jays and watch the world series. I’m a bit of a baseball historian. Not totally, but a little bit.

Q: What’s your opinion on the Leafs?

A: Well I think that this year with the Leafs, it’s been fascinating because the team actually has some talent, but the pieces just aren’t coming together. Which is a really interesting sports management issue. Sometimes it just doesn’t and maybe you just clean houses and take eraser and rub the board off and you just start over and hope for the best. Then that’s one thing. But it is fascinating to see these young guys. A lot of times they’re trying, but it’s just not enough and it doesn’t quite work and what people are saying about them because they make pretty good money and I found this spring especially to be most fascinating. I didn’t walk away disgusted because I don’t think a lot of them aren’t trying so much. They just don’t know how to put it together. But last time they won I was in Grade 1, so I recognize and completely understand the frustration. But remember Chicago cubs haven’t won since 1908 so we’ve got a long way to go.

Q: Dogs or cats?

A: Neither. We had pets when I was a kid but my schedule is so busy right now that if I was to have a pet, I certainly would want to have the time to spend with it, and have it as part of my life and I wouldn’t want to neglect it. So the two things is that my schedule’s 13 or 14 hours a day many times, and weekends and so forth, and I’m away in summers, and I just don’t feel that theress a place for that right now. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be, but just now I don’t want to be in a position where I feel they would be neglected. I enjoy the neighbour’s dog, got a little black dog named Angus. He’s a little troublemaker but he’s wonderful. So I’ll go over and talk to him once in a while, but give him back to his master. *chuckles*

Q: As succinctly as possible, how would you describe your philosophy of teaching?

A: There’s a couple things that come to mind. When I was in university and I was TA-ing for the physics lab, I was asking the professor a few things about how to approach things and he turned to me exasperated and said “The objective is to get some work out of the students.” I never forgot that. I also feel that when I went to university and I looked at the number of kids failing or really getting crushed, and I thought they weren’t stupid, they just weren’t prepared. And I wanted to do something about that. That’s run with me ever since. And then I walk in here and here’s TOPS and two years later, I’m part of that. We get a chance to twist the tails of you folks and make sure you’re as ready as we can make you. That doesn’t happen to you. That matters to me a great deal. Whether that’s a philosophy, I don’t know.

Mr. Hussey  said once when he won the Prime Minister’s award that his philosophy was “Don’t hurt them.” That’s actually a really cool statement because theres a lot in that. There’s a lot of ways to hurt kids. I don’t just mean the banal ways, but not preparing them adequately is hurting the kids. How you teach them, how you treat them, how many chances you give them and when its time to say no. There’s a lot of very cool things to that too. That’s always in the back of my mind as well.

I need to say this one thing. I must tell you, when I look at the teacher feature in the last paper, I was so excited because I saw Mr. Pearce and myself, and I thought “Oh my gosh!” And then it was about him. *laughs* and then I just kept reading that. So I was honoured to be in the picture at least anyway.