Mr. Douglas is a teacher in the English department and this is his first year at Garneau.
Q: What courses do you teach at Garneau?
A: I teach Grade 11 University English, Grade 10 Academic English. Last semester I taught Grade 10 Academic and Applied English, as well as Grade 9 Applied English.
Q: This being your first year teaching here, how do you find the school so far?
A: It’s a great school; lots of student activities happening, and student engagement is really high. It’s a big school, but it’s a friendly school with a really engaged, enthusiastic student base.
Q: I understand that you studied in Germany and also lived there for a while. How did that come about?
A: That’s true, the summer before I started my Grade 13 year, I had the opportunity to go to Europe as part of a ‘study elsewhere’ program and earn a high school credit. I also took a backpacking trip prior to university that took me back to Europe. Looking for opportunities to go back to Germany because I had met a nice girl while backpacking, I took part in a university exchange in my third year, studying at the Humboldt University of Berlin. When I finished my undergraduate degree I moved back to Germany to do postgraduate work at the European-University Viadrina.
In Germany, tuition is paid for by the German government—even for foreigners. So I got my Masters in European Studies at a very low cost. Being done my postgraduate degree, I looked for work. There was a position that came up as a trainee editor at a publishing house for German high school textbooks and teacher guides, now called the Westermann Gruppe. I worked for the company for about five years.
(On becoming a teacher)
I had a rewarding job but something was still unfulfilled; the job of an editor is very solitary.
I’ve always worked with educators, teachers primarily. And I thought that my talents as a communicator were better suited for in the classroom. As a teacher, you can see students actually improving instead of just putting out materials into the world, hoping that they are being used and that they are effective. After a gradual withdrawal from my editing duties in Germany, I attended Teacher’s College at OISE. Shortly after graduating I got a job with the TDSB as a supply teacher and I’ve been a full-time teacher since 2012.
Q: How is the teaching style different in Germany?
A: When you register for university in Canada, you pay for a specific course. It has changed somewhat since I graduated, but when I studied the humanities in Germany, there was no formal enrollment in some courses, you just went, listened to the lectures or attended the seminars and wrote a ten- or twenty page essay at the end to a “credit.”
Q: So how did you find the transition between these two sides of education? How did your skills as an editor translate to teaching?
A: As a textbook editor, I transform curriculum to give teachers something that they can use in class. So in a lot of ways many teachers are doing the work of editors. They draw up worksheets, adapt texts from various sources and write tests. I think my work as a teacher today is influenced greatly by all the work I did as an editor. I know what went into making a book, what were the considerations and the compromises. Taking that as a teacher, I use textbooks and the available resources, but I can also make a lot of my own resources because that was what I did for a living.
Q: Have you been always editing English textbooks and teaching English in Germany, or have you also taught other courses?
A: No, it’s been primarily English. My specialization is English as a Foreign Language, which is a bit different from ESL. There’s a lot of similarities, but the English I was teaching was for students who were not living in a country where English is an official language.
In terms of what I teach in Canada, I teach anything in the humanities: law, co-op, ESL, special education, politics, and history. I also feel at home teaching business. I have a lot of interests, in my spare time I do charity work and I’m a member of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. I’m also armigerous, meaning that I have a personal coat of arms.
[Heraldry: the system used to devise, describe, and regulate coat of arms and other armorial bearings.]
Q: Wow that’s really cool. What’s the story behind that?
A: My dad thought it was important to chronicle our family history and both he, my brother and I have our own coats of arms. Any Canadian citizen can petition the Canadian Heraldic Authority for a grant of arms. After that you work with a herald to come up with a blazon, which is the language of heraldry, and the design elements.
Q: What do you do in the Heraldry Society?
A: Once or twice a year I attend seminars about recent trends in heraldry or its history. We usually take a tour of a historical building, and have a formal dinner together. When you look around there’s a lot of heraldry out there. It’s just another language that people can learn. Currently, I’m enrolled in Level One of the Heraldry Proficiency Program that the Society offers.
Q: I understand that you support “Content Language and Integrated Learning”, what does that mean?
A: Oh CLIL! The premise of CLIL is that the first time you’re learning something you’re a new space in your brain for that information and the learning is actually deeper.
For example, teaching English to non-native speakers through history or chemistry is helpful because no prior knowledge of the subject is getting in the way, there’s no language interference. Often when you’re learning something in a second language, your first language runs interference. In this case, it’s all new.
So that’s how CLIL works, you learn a topic in another language, and pick up the new vocabulary in the process.
Q: Would you recommend students to learn a second language?
A: Yes, because you gain a second or third perspective on world events and philosophy. Each language has its own way of looking at things. German has words that English doesn’t, like wanderlust—the desire to travel; or a more negative emotion like schadenfreude—taking pleasure in someone’s misfortune. A second language allows you to see how words are used differently and sometimes there’s a little bit of philosophy hiding behind that.
It pays dividends down the road, and makes people more flexible and open-minded to different ways of doing things. I think everybody should experience some level of culture shock.
I tell any student who asks me, if you really want to “future-proof” yourself, learn Mandarin or any other language with a large base of speakers like Spanish.
Q: For the sports fans at Garneau, I’ve heard that you had worked in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Did you meet any famous players?
A: Yeah, I’ve met all the famous players, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howie, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr…I have a lot of autographed memorabilia. My claim to fame is that I once drove the Stanley Cup to the airport in my 1985 Pontiac Acadian hatchback. I never raised the Stanley Cup, I think that should be reserved only for the players, but I know Stanley very well.
Q: Favourite Team?
A: The Toronto Maple Leafs. I bleed blue.
Q: Favourite Pastime?
Q: Places you would like to visit?
A: Machu Picchu.
Q: Favourite Book?
A: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.
Q: Favourite Author?
A: George Orwell in light of recent events.
This interview has been condensed and edited.