Robert Hillmer Award 2011: Ron Robinson

Ron’s Speech
Honoured Guests, OBEA Executive, and OBEA Members…welcome.

My tale began in May of 1976, when I went to W.A. Porter C.I. to interview for a business teaching position. I arrived there and had the interview with the Principal, a Vice-Principal, and a very young Vice-Principal, Gary Pennington, who is usually here but whom I don’t see this morning.

I accepted the position at Porter, and stayed there for the first third of my career. The timetable wasn’t great—something like two Grade 9 Typing, one Grade 10 Typing, one Grade 11 Business Machines, a Grade 10 General Accounting, and a Grade 11 General Accounting. In other words, all the classes no one else wanted. Didn’t matter, you took the job.

The kids would say, “Hey, sir, can you type?” And I would say, “No, but I can teach it. Watch. GGG space…LLL space…RRR space…return…repeat. There was Lesson One.

Before Lesson One, though, I was petrified so I paced the hall nervously and I came upon another nervous pacer, Gord Llewellyn, who had been my lab partner in Science class at FEUT. What was I doing taking a Science class at FEUT? It was called an “additional related” course. We called it “additional unrelated”. Anyway, Gord and I renewed our friendship and are still the closest of friends 35 years later. I made a lot of great friends over the years, many of them educators, support staff and students. I can’t play hockey any more but several of the original Porter Staff from the late seventies still play with some of those students, who are all 50+ now and in one case, the son of one of a student also plays. It was a great school and a great time to start a teaching career.

We were young. We knew everything. We did everything.

We got involved. Sports, music, drama, business clubs, if there was one, usually Junior Achievement. I remember DECA when it was MECA. It was great to be involved with the kids. That’s what our goal should be…the kids. Make sure the kids learn something every day and have fun doing it.

The next phase of my career took me to a strange outpost atop a Reitmans store in Cedarbrae Mall at the corner of Markham Road and Lawrence Avenue…the Storefront School…a haven for misfits, at-risk students, scofflaws, and the like. That was an adventure. There were two of us there. A Guidance/English teacher, who I think changed eight times over my 11 years, and me, the Business Department. Try to get these underachievers to master debit and credit theory and the AIDA formula, get to a co-op placement on time, between their horrific home lives, arrests, pregnancies, etc…it was an interesting time. But again, the goal was to have them learn something and have fun at the same time.

We had very few rules. Come every day. Come on time. If you don’t come, call us and leave a message on the machine.

“Hello, Ron, it’s me. I won’t be coming in today. Got a little drunk last night, got arrested, and this is my phone call. Thanks.” Typical calls.

We dealt with principals, vice-principals, counsellors, social workers, police, etc. We kept a log of each day’s events and that log makes very interesting reading. I used to say that I was probably the safest person in Scarborough because if any toughs approached me on the street, I probably knew them and they would say, “Hi, and see you tomorrow at 9 for school.”

These are the stories from the Storefront.

Then along came Mike Harris in the mid to late 90s and boom, there went all our efforts at Storefront and Scarborough Centre for Alternative Studies with a very needy group of students who didn’t fit in a regular school environment. Numbers and seniority trumped knowledge and experience and we were replaced. “Here’s your letter. You there…you…to Bendale! You…over there…Campbell! You…” “Who me?” “Yes you. Ron Robinson, you are being bumped to Agincourt C.I.”

Well, I got lucky. Agincourt…the final phase. In the summer my timetable arrived. It was a complete mess. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. Every space was covered with a different class and there was only one prep every 2 days. Mike had decided that teachers should teach 7 of 8 periods. Well, off we went and we fought hard and got that altered in mid-October of 1998, but the damage to morale had been done. What to do? Keep going, making sure that the kids learned something every day and had fun doing it.

Agincourt was a new world…from an inner-city-type school like Porter, to the interesting environment of the Storefront, to one of the top academic schools in the province. Yikes.

Motivation was not a problem at Agincourt. Almost every student was an overachiever. The staff was superb, as they still are.

We got the kids into DECA, OBEA contests, marketing trips, and more.

As the old great staff retired one by one and were replaced with young firecrackers, the mission remained the same, make sure the kids learn something every day and have fun doing it.

Let me thank a few people.

Len Bulmer for his kind introduction today and for more than 30 years of friendship and guidance.

Glenn Holmes, former Accounting Teacher of the Year (2001), for his guidance in my early teaching years at Porter C. I.

Ed Moran from SCAS and Tim Sim from Agincourt, two of the greatest principals ever, who fully supported each and every move we made at Storefront and Agincourt.

My wife, Dianne; my beautiful daughter, Kelly; and her fiancé, Tyler, for being there for me.

Kelly was able to see all three aspects of my career. I took her to Porter in the late 80s when she was very young, she went to lunch with my students at the mall and they treated her great and then she got to see Dad in action at Agincourt on the “Take Your Kid to Work Day”. She reported back to her Grade 9 class that she thought I was a good teacher. She is now a graduate of Brock University, Bachelor of Business Administration program.

When Kara Hiltz called me about accepting the Hillmer Award, I thought, again, someone must think I was a good teacher.

I am so proud and honoured to accept the Hillmer Award today. Thank you all.

And, in case I haven’t said it enough…make sure the kids learn something every day and have fun doing it.

Thank you all!