A conversation he heard on National Public Radio a couple of years ago got Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen thinking. And doing.
When the host of the program asked his guest if he ever thanked the teacher who played such an important role in his life, Jensen decided to try and get a hold of a teacher who had done the same for him when he was growing up in Montreal.
“I had only been in Canada for six months and didn’t speak English,” Jensen recalled. “My second grade teacher, Miss Hayami, a Japanese Canadian lady was the kindest person, a wonderful human being who was very supportive.”
Although he put up with his fair share of teasing from classmates because of his limited language skills, the classroom became his sanctuary thanks to Hayami’s tireless efforts, Jensen said. So he decided to try and contact her to let her know how much he appreciated her help, prompted by the radio program.
“It was a pivotal time in my life, and I will never forget how much she helped me,” Jensen said. “I wanted to impress her with what I learned and she really motivated me. Her endearing qualities were her kindness and how she nurtured self confidence, instilled a love of learning, self esteem and a love for others.”
It took some effort to get a hold of Hayami’s contact information, but once he did, Jensen spent a couple of hours crafting a letter he emailed to her.
“She called 10 minutes after I sent the email and asked if I was the little Danish boy who couldn’t speak English,” said Jensen, who shared her classrooms for grades two, three and six. “She said she was very moved by my letter and I told her how much she had influenced me.”
Her overwhelming kindness didn’t prevent Hayami from doling out discipline when required. “We used to try and throw pee wee footballs around the class when her back was turned and I had to wait until the end of the year before I got mine back a couple of times,” he recalled with a chuckle.
Jensen’s life took another major turn in high school when a teacher made chemistry so engaging that he was inspired to earn a degree in chemical engineering, a career path he pursued for a number of years before deciding to get a law degree. “I wanted to do something more involved with helping people,” he explained. A career in law nurtured a love for teaching, which has been a part of his life on and off for more than 20 years.
“The students’ enthusiasm is a great reward,” said Jensen, who is looking forward to teaching at the University of Victoria again in the near future.
Capital Region mayors reflect on teachers’ influence
Highlands Mayor Ken Williams was quick to credit a music teacher in high school for helping to shape a career that involves composing scores for Hollywood movies and producing local musicians and bands.
“His name was Emile Michaux and he was a former military band conductor who came to Canada from a very musical family in France after the (Second World) War,” said Williams, who attended Colquitz high school in the late 1960s. “He was a great teacher who had the knowledge to engage his students in what he was teaching, and our school band won a few provincial championships. Quite a few professional musicians came out our local school bands and it was a top notch experience.”
Having a sister who teaches helped shape Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton’s perspective on the profession.
“I used to help her set up her classroom in her early years in Prince George,” said Hamilton regarding her sister, Karen Friesen, who has taught at the elementary school level for 25 years. “You develop a real admiration for the work they do and become well aware of the extra effort they put in.” Although Hamilton is many years removed from her days in the Prince George area, she still occasionally runs into her sister’s former pupils. “They all say what a great teacher she was and how she positively impacted their life.”
Langford Mayor Stew Young can easily trace his appreciation for sports and the qualities they instill back to Muzz Bryant, one of his teachers at Belmont secondary school. “I learned about the value of teamwork, discipline and leadership,” Young said. “Those values become part of your life. They gave me the knowledge and work ethic that have helped me as a businessman and a mayor. I gained much more than an education during my time at Belmont. The efforts of the many teachers helped me realize you can achieve your goals if you’re willing to work hard and work with others.”
If you have a teacher who made a significant impact on your life, Black Press would like to hear from you. Just visit SaanichNews.com, click on the great teachers icon and let us know what grade they taught, which school and why they are deserving of a nomination. The deadline for nominations is May 29.