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*Mr. Smallwood at the VHS building open house – 2012.

For as long as we have existed, VHS has been fortunate enough to have had a supremely talented writer, editor, and English teacher in Mr. John Smallwood. His wealth of teaching experience and extensive support of students and their families have made him a valuable member of the VHS team and our local community. Here is his story:

I’ve been extremely fortunate not only to have worked with thousands of young people and really talented colleagues but also to have found work that I have enjoyed every day of my several decades in various educational settings. After doing poorly in math in grade 13, I took a year off and was lucky enough to have had some jobs I personally did not enjoy, from working in an abattoir, to being a road foreman in northern Ontario where the blackflies virtually halted work, to being a labourer on different apartment building construction sites. These jobs and improving night-school math marks, along with a reading addiction, led me to think seriously about attending university. Once I graduated from Western, I was lucky to begin work immediately during a time when teachers were in high demand.

I became a better, more creative teacher about midway through my career when I earned two graduate degrees, both of which allowed me to focus even more on Canlit at a time when many in universities felt that all Canadian writing was, at best, a pale imitation of writing that was being produced elsewhere. After a somewhat early retirement from my high school due to an illness in my family, I was hired by Western where I greatly enjoyed teaching undergrad writing courses, ending my work there in 2013. All along, I worked with Principal Baker on writing courses, teaching students online, and developing teaching and marking practices in our online courses that stand us in good stead today, many years after those first courses were launched.

As a teacher, I was asked to coach a cross-country team as I had taken up “jogging” during the evenings as a break from marking. During my twenty-six years of coaching track and cross-country, I worked with many superb athletes who competed in OFSSA, and I became even keener to the point that I started running races locally. I am still running, not “jogging,” and while I am slower than in the past, after hundreds of thousands of kilometers, innumerable races (over 50 of them marathons), and opportunities to run in various countries, I am thoroughly convinced that activity of any sort only enhances academics, with some of my best ideas in teaching coming during those 30k training runs early in the morning. Running is one of those sports that requires little equipment, and importantly for me, no great coordination or athletic ability, so I have flourished happily on the roads and trails for many years and hope to do so indefinitely.

I also have a strong interest in the arts and in environmental matters. When I’m not roaming a small rural property I own, I’m kayaking in the Bruce, biking, or hiking virtually anywhere in southern Ontario. My work at VHS has allowed me the same flexibility our students enjoy in working on their courses. The combination of online work and vigorous outdoor activities has made for an enjoyable two plus decades as I work with VHS in the production of the finest education available in Ontario.

Mr. Smallwood is an essential member of the VHS team and is a great example for teachers and educators who want to make a positive impact on student’s lives. Thank you for all you do, Mr. Smallwood!