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Belonging and Thanking Men of Brebeuf College School

by Brian Iwasiwka

It was an early September day, 1975, when I walked through one of three gigantic hard wood doors to the student entrance of Brebeuf College School, Willowdale. I was entering grade 9.
I didn’t really like school. Six or seven years with the same class, at the same grade school left its mark. Being a good student did not come naturally to me, and when my mother came home excited, for me, for herself, from her first Brebeuf Lady’s Auxiliary meeting, I was scared. Brebeuf was an all advanced program school. What did I get myself into?  I remember falling asleep that night thinking, “Well, you can pass goofball, at least you can pass.”
School structure was tight. There were no erroneous (5) minutes between classes.  Late meant late. Many classes had 40 students; 5 rows of 8 deep.  We wore ties and jackets. The vice principal, Mr. Gazely also taught obligatory grade 9 Latin, since 1963.  At the first parents only meeting he referred to me as “that bright-eyed” boy. Something I won’t forget.  As grade 9 students of Latin first period, we were relieved when Mr. Gazely, perhaps came in hastily, attempted to start a lesson about how to use the ablative case but switched gears and continued to blow off steam after having to deal with a bold senior’s lack of hair cut or other rude infraction.
Overall it was the well prepared lessons; lessons that I could grasp, the display of fair professionalism amongst teachers and students is what got me hooked. This place was just. I could learn. And these two parameters were critical for me. 
A few years later I remember walking down the hallway, in grade 11, thinking to myself, “Hm, I am in grade 11 now, halfway between grade 9 and grade 13, I’m in the middle of this! This is my school.  I do belong.”  And that was that.  Had it not been for Brebeuf and its group of solid teaching professionals, I probably would have dropped out by the legal age after grade 10.
At home, in my family, we always knew that we were well loved, even though our parents were not the most verbal kind. They were sound parents. All the while, I knew, that if one of us as Brebeuf students had ever found ourselves in deep deep trouble, where we couldn’t go our parents, for one reason or another, we would always be able to turn to any of the staff members at Brebeuf. They were Christian to the core.
After 30 years in education, I still have the fondest memories of the staff at Brebeuf.  In grade 9, as those of us without older siblings were trying to figure things out, a group of us, more musically inclined ate lunch together. Later, I found an after school connection in the music program which included, Concert and Stage Bands. In grades 11-13, chemistry and physics, we were typically on the receiving end of the Socratic Method (which became my default style of teaching); teachers continually lead us through the thought process. And it wasn’t until grade 13 that an essay of mine received an approving grade. Teachers were not your friends; they were your educators. That didn’t mean that we didn’t laugh, that we didn’t receive disapproving grins, some yelling when we deserved it, and in the end we were congratulated on our solid efforts, results and we shook hands. From my point of view, every staff member took their teaching privilege seriously. Their positions of power and influence were not there to serve themselves, but to serve us, their students.
About 10 years later, I had just been back from some travelling where in front of me appeared an aimless future when at the school’s 25th year reunion, Mr. Gazely asked me to drop by the school Monday “discuss things”.  I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a day in February 1989, he turned and laid a set of keys in front of me. He told me the lesson plans were on the desk, and that I was to go to room 225 immediately; the students were waiting. That was it; that was the beginning of my career in education.
I spent the next two years at Brebeuf, and the following year, once again I had Mr. Gazely to thank for convincing the principal of St. Elizabeth’s (Thornhill, Mr. DiRocco) to hire me for yet another LTO position.
I have always felt a huge debt of gratitude to the people of Brebeuf College. As a student, I have them to thank for the great learning and modelling opportunities they offered us as young men in the 70s.  Their leadership, their professionalism, their enthusiasm and love of learning, their dedication I am sure was second to none. (I still try to live and uphold that standard each day). And later, a second time in my life, for offering me the opportunity to teach along side them. Being welcomed ‘to the team’ as an educator, a colleague, was easily one of the greatest honours of trust and confidence ever bestowed upon me. Knowing that I had place, that I could belong to that group of exemplary educators, gave me the footsteps to my future.
Thank you men of Brebeuf.
Brian Iwasiwka


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