Though the move from Vancouver to Yellowknife at the end of my grade 11 year was a very traumatic one for me and led to some of the worst days of my life, there was a silver lining and his name was Mr. Geary.
John (Jack) Geary was my English 30 and Economics 30 teacher at Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife and though he probably never knew it, he had a profound impact on my life. I don’t remember much about my final year of high school. In fact, I don’t even remember my own graduation but I do remember the teacher who gave me the gift of writing, Mr. Geary.
Mr. Geary believed that it was his job to prepare us to write the kinds of papers that we’d have to write if we went on to university. A lot of my classmates didn’t like him because he made us write and write and then write some more but with his encouragement and nurturing, a lifelong love of writing was born in me. Over forty years later, I still have all the papers I wrote for Mr. Geary.
Our first assignment was to write a comparison between Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a second novel of our choice from a list that we were given. I still remember how overwhelmed I felt. I’d never faced such a challenging assignment before and I really didn’t know what this new teacher expected. I chose Lord of the Flies by William Golding as my second novel only because I’d already studied it back in BC the year before. There had to be some advantage to changing school systems midstream and I wasn’t above taking advantage of them!
I found Heart of Darkness a difficult read but I soon noticed that both plot and theme seemed quite similar to those of Lord of the Flies so that’s what I wrote about. I had no idea if I was on the right track and I still remember how nervous I was when I handed in my paper, wondering if I had any chance of getting a decent grade. As it turned out, it was more than decent; it was the top mark in the class but it was Mr. Geary’s comment at the end that set me on the road to becoming a writer.
A thoroughly intelligent piece of criticism, Elaine – perceptive & lucid, far more so than I could have managed! Good work indeed.
Mr. Geary wrote encouraging comments at the end of all my papers but he also pointed out errors and ways that I could improve my writing. It didn’t take him long to get to know me either. When, a little later in the term, I decided to play the devil’s advocate and take a stand that I didn’t actually believe in, he saw right through me and his comment read
Plausibly argued, Elaine, although it could contain greater conviction.
I had already decided that I wanted to be a teacher before I met Mr. Geary but I chose secondary English as my major because I visualized myself teaching high school English the way he did. As it turned out, I never did teach English at the high school level but Mr. Geary’s legacy lived on in many other ways. As a university student, I’d certainly used the skills he’d nurtured and then later, as a young stay-at-home Mom I dusted off my love of writing and had several freelance articles published. I thought that that would continue but when I returned to teaching school, there weren’t enough hours in the day for writing. I discovered that passing on my love for reading and writing to my students fulfilled the same need in me. Then came retirement and blogging! I don’t need to sell my writing to feel fulfilled by it. I just need to know that others enjoy reading it. Just as I loved flipping to the end of my English 30 papers to read Mr. Geary’s comments, I enjoy the affirmation that comes with the comments that are left on my blog.
As a retired school teacher, I realize that we seldom know the long term impact that we’ve had on our students and how affirming it is when many years later we do receive positive feedback from one of them. That’s why, for many years, I’ve wished that I could contact Mr. Geary and thank him for his impact on my life. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that. It isn’t for lack of trying. I’ve Googled his name numerous times, searched for him on Facebook and inquired about him on the Sir John Franklin High School Alumni page. To the best of my knowledge, he returned to his native Australia not long after I knew him. If he’s still alive, I’m guessing that he’d be in his late 70’s or early 80’s by now. I know that he had children but they were much younger than me and I don’t remember their names so I can’t find him by searching for them. So, unless I can find another way to contact him and thank him personally, I guess this tribute will have to do.
Thank you, Mr. Geary, from the bottom of my heart!