Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education
Faculty of Education

Alumni Reflection: Allan Shaw Ed’89

This reflection from alumnus Allan Shaw on the relationships he fostered over his career is even more meaningful given Mac Freeman’s passing on August 27, 2020.  Allan’s story reminds us of the lasting impacts educators can have long after we leave their classrooms.

One educator’s personal reflection of how the building of relationships turned out to be the key to a successful and fulfilling 30-year career

When I enrolled at the Queen’s Faculty of Education in September of 1988, I was fortunate to be in Dr. Mac Freeman’s “Human Dimensions of Teaching and Learning” course in my first semester. I remember Mac conducting weekly small group seminars in addition to the large group lectures. In the seminars, Mac helped us figure out what to expect when we became teachers. This was really important because what we experienced as students wasn’t what we were going to experience as teachers.

Mac was interested in getting to know each one of us as individuals, and that really impressed me. Creating meaningful connections with my students was one of the main reasons I wanted to become a teacher.

In my second semester, I took the “Values Education” class with Mac. One of the memorable learning activities we did was to think about what values were important to us in both our personal and professional lives. I identified several core values:  honesty, integrity, sincerity, reliability, and trustworthiness. I would rely on these values again and again as I built my career in teaching and, later, as a guidance counsellor.

Throughout my career, I taught at six different high schools as well as one elementary school, finishing the last 17 years at Lambton Central CVI in Petrolia, ON. Each time I started at new school meant taking a personal interest in getting to know the students and teachers while allowing them to get to know me as well. Sometimes I was not even aware of the impact that this had on my students. 

In the summer of 1999, as a teacher facilitator at the Ontario Educational Leadership Center (OELC), I had the opportunity to work with some of the best student leaders from secondary schools all over Ontario during Athletic Leadership Week. My favourite part of the program was the nightly cabin meeting which usually lasted about 20 minutes. At this time, I would talk to my cabin of 12 campers about how the week was going. I would read them stories or tell them my own stories of the experiences I had growing up. At the end of the week, the group had become close, but I was unsure of what effect I had on them since it was the first time that I had worked at OELC. As I left the cabin meeting on the last night, one of the leaders said: “Al, you made the week good. Every time we were doing our leadership activities you always had a big smile on your face." He said it with such sincerity that I was quite moved by it. I thought afterwards that my genuineness and honest presence as the facilitator had not gone unnoticed by the group.   

When I first started teaching, I didn’t always feel supported by others. However, I did have some colleagues who reached out and assisted me for which I am very grateful. As I gained experience and confidence, I wanted to be sure to offer support to other new teachers as much as I could. I made sure to talk to them and ask how things were going.

I recall a time in the middle of my career when I moved to a new school at the beginning of the second semester. There was a first-year teacher who started at the same time. She had a classroom across the hall from me and from time to time, at the end of the day, I would ask her how everything was going. It was very informal and I would just listen to her and perhaps provide a suggestion or two. At the end of the semester, she said: “Thanks for taking an interest in me, you were the only one who asked me how things were going. And you were new at the school too!”

Sometimes you don’t realize the impact you have had until after you are done. When I retired in June 2019, several colleagues thanked me for the support I provided throughout our time at the school together. I am proud to say that in fostering relationships throughout my career, I made a difference in the lives of my students and colleagues. This is one of the most satisfying outcomes of 30 years of teaching.

I would like to say a sincere thank you to Mac Freeman for all his wise lessons and many thanks to all of the colleagues who either helped me or let me know how much they appreciated my own help and support. As many of us enter into the final phase of our career, I wish all my former Faculty of Education classmates the best of health and happiness in retirement. 

Allan Shaw is from the B.A./B.P.H.E. class of 1988, and BEd class of 1989. He received a Master of Education degree in Holistic Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto in 1999. Al can be contacted at allandavidshaw@gmail.com