MCHS Bio for Graeme Decarie, who taught for three years at Malcolm Campbell High School

Graeme Decarie. Source: MCHS 1962-63 yearbook

Born into pretty severe poverty in Montreal’s Villeray district. (1933 was a bad year to be born.)

Attended Crystal Springs School, a four-room school built to the same design as the original version of Cartierville School.

Failed grade 10, was failing grade 11 when principal called me down to say, “Let’s face it, Decarie, you have no brains at all. Go find a job”.

Then spent four years as minor clerk at Bell. Hated it – and would probably have been fired for incompetence. Meanwhile, I had slipped into Sir George Williams though I didn’t have a high school leaving certificate. That led to getting a part time job training as a YMCA director – at Northmount Y. The BA still incomplete, I quit the Y to do a year of teacher training.

Parkdale School

Did my practice teaching at Parkdale School where the principal (the son of Malcolm Campbell) offered me a job. Taught there while finishing BA at night. I passed. But my grades were so low, they wouldn’t give me even a major (in history). But it was a degree; so I was sent to teach at MCHS.

Graeme Decarie is at the far left in back row. Photo from 1961-62 MCHS yearbook. Click on image to enlarge it. Click again to enlarge it further.

Quit after three years on a sudden impulse to do an MA at Acadia – even though I had never been accepted, and didn’t have anywhere close to the grades. That day, I drove to Nova Scotia to tell a shocked dean I wanted to do an MA in history. I was nowhere near qualified. So he set tough rules. I had to do another undergrad year, and get straight As.

[The decision to go for his MA was made, as Graeme Decarie notes in a previous post, on the first day of the 1963-64 school year.]

MA and PhD in history

So I did it, then spent a year doing an MA with straight As. (My rooming house was the home of an elderly woman. I later wrote a story about her for Reader’s Digest which more than paid my living expenses for the two years.) Then it was the Big Time at Queen’s where I did a PhD.

Taught three years at University of PEI, then some 35 at Concordia where I was History chair for several terms. I had discovered that from my first day at Parkdale, I loved teaching. I was very happy at it; and I miss it terribly.

Radio and TV career

On the side, I became a radio broadcaster, first at CBC for a dozen years until they fired me for becoming chairman of Alliance Quebec – then a dozen years at CJAD arguing politics with Gord Sinclair and Tommy Shnurmaker, and doing daily editorials. (Got a best in Canada award for at least one year of that.)

Left to right: Wendy Swanson, Graeme Decarie. Source: MCHS 1962-63 yearbook

Also did lots of television, usually political commentary, but also did a full show for Global just about me.

I wrote for, advised on, was interviewed for NFB films. For one, Notman’s Montreal, I did all the above, plus the voice-over. Outside of Canada, I also did some TV for BBC, and NBC.

I was also busy writing for newspapers and magazines, and giving some 60 public talks a year. About 15 or twenty years ago, the teacher’s convention named me “Quebec Social Studies teacher of the year”. I loved it.

But I had found university teachers the worst I had ever seen, and they reminded me of the many public school administrators I had known. So that was the topic of my thank you speech. The teachers liked it. But the platform party decided to form a circle around me as protection from a threatening and angry group of principals.

China and the Netherlands

Along the way I spent considerable time teaching in China and the Netherlands.

I keep myself busy now with a blog on how bloody awful our news media are. It gets a strong Canadian audience but, surprisingly, a bigger foreign one, including U.S., France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. To find it, just google Graeme Decarie. The first page should have at least one entry for Moncton Times and Transcript: Good and bad.

[To access the blog, you can click on it at the link at the start of the preceding paragraph.]

This is way longer than it should be – but there’s so much I enjoyed on the way – and MCHS was very much a part of that.

I got married in New Brunswick, had two daughters, was divorced. Had a long bachelorhood, then married again about twenty years ago and fathered twin sons and a daughter. And, such is life, have been separated for about four years. I’m also grandfather to three girls. All of them were and still are joys.

[End of text]

[For additional posts featuring Graeme Decarie, do a search for his name at the internal search engine at this website. Usually when I post a new and lengthy item featuring Mr. Decarie, the average number of daily visits to my site stays at close to double the average number of visits, for about a week. It is amazing to see how much interest there is.]


8 replies
  1. David Warr
    David Warr says:

    I did not have Mr. Decarie as a teacher but I remember him as the teacher that got “The Twist” banned from the school. He certainly had a very distinguished career. I thought he would be much older than he is.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Hi David!

    He will be pleased to know that you thought he would be much older than he is.

    I’m pleased to note that our Database Team, in Newsletter #7, sent out to MCHS alumni who are on the Reunion Database, has already been letting people know that we are making arrangements for a Twist competition. We’re planning to have a special valet service for alumni who will be parking their walkers at the periphery of the dance floor.

    In the next while, I’ll be posting a photo, that I received from Graeme Decarie, that was taken within the past five years. He does look young; some people just have that knack, I guess.


  3. Graeme Decarie
    Graeme Decarie says:

    Ah, the twist. Actually, it was the students who pushed me into that position. Never much of a dancer, I knew nothing about the Twist. But students pestered me about it. Would I ban it? I don’t know how often I heard that.

    Then one student – I forget his name, but I knew him quite well from weightlifting class. His name was Italian – and he belonged to a singing group about 1963, He stopped me when I was going down the stairs and said, “You can’t ban it. It was on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

    And that’s why I thought, “The hell with it. Ed Sullivan doesn’t set the rules for school dances. I do.”

    And the rest is history.


    P.S. I am much older than I am.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Well, I like to think that there were quite a few private parties, at people’s houses, where people could Twist the night away!

    I remember, as well, a memorable Limbo competition, at one such party, far from the precincts of the school. I was amazed at what the answer to the question was, in the song: “How low can you go???” Or maybe it was a Limbo competition at the school itself. Memory, as has been noted elsewhere, is malleable:

    Memories are malleable – capable of being stretched or bent into different shapes

  5. David Warr
    David Warr says:

    Hello Graeme!
    I started teaching just before my 21st birthday so I wasn’t a lot older than many of the students that I taught. You couldn’t have been very old either when you started. When I retired I had taught three generations, mother, daughter and granddaughter. But only just.
    Where does the time go?

  6. Graeme Decarie
    Graeme Decarie says:

    When I started teaching at Parkdale, I was just 24. So I was 27. But I got much older before that. In 1955 or 56, I was working at the Y while studying at Sir George and, on the side, making $25 a day with occasional supply teaching. A school I was assigned to several times was an elementary school in St. Laurent near the main building of what was Canadair. One recess, on yard duty, I overheard one student ask another, “Who’s yer supply teacher today?”
    Came the reply, “Ii”s just old man Decarie.”

    • David Warr
      David Warr says:

      That school near Canadair must have been Westbrook School. I did a practice teaching there for two weeks.

  7. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I got my start in public school teaching in 1979 by working as a supply teacher for the Metro Toronto School Board which ran Special Education programs in schools across the Toronto area, in schools under the jurisdiction of all of the Toronto-area school boards such as the Scarborough Board of Education, the Etobicoke Board of Education, and the Toronto Board of Education.

    The kind of Special Education I was involved in was of a nature that, if a person switches to a regular classroom after a decade or whatever amount of time in Special Education, the transition is typically not an easy one, if the change can be made at all. It involves a change of mindset.

    Teacher mindsets

    I was delighted to learn – because I always enjoy learning new and novel things – that in the Peel District School Board, which I switched to around 1995, from a Special Education program at the Scarborough Board of Education, there was an unwritten, in some ways unspoken policy, that teachers in Special Education programs, that deal with services for students with severe developmental delays, should be kept from making the transition to teaching in a regular classroom.

    I assume the subtext was that administrators at the Peel District School Board (PDSB) had learned, from anecdotal evidence, that teachers in that category (who wished to switch from teaching several developmentally challenged students to teaching in a regular classroom), would in many cases flounder in what was for them a new setting.

    I recall a PDSB teacher, who taught in a regular classroom, remarking to me that it would be interesting and fun to teach in a program for developmentally challenged students, but she would not be prepared to take that step, even for a few years, because she knew that teachers in such a Special Education program would not find it easy – in terms of the subsequent interview steps – to find their way back into a regular classroom. Administrators would tend to frown on the concept of a teacher, who had extensive experience teaching in a segregated Special Education classroom, making the transition to teaching at a regular program.

    I was able to make the switch because I was switching from one school board to another, and the flagging, that would have otherwise been in place, was not in place.

    As well, I received excellent advice about how to conduct myself at an interview and, in a key interview with the Peel District School Board, could prepare myself by overhearing a discussion about my resume just before I had the interview. What I learned in the process of switching from one school board to another was of tremendous value to me. It gave me insights about the practice of teaching that would otherwise never have occurred to me.

    Transition from teaching severely developmentally challenged students to working in a regular classroom

    I had noticed that some teachers, who had taught with the Metro Toronto School Board for many years, were successful at once in making the transition to working in the regular system, at the point where MTSB programs were taken over by local school boards in Toronto, which as I recall occurred some years before all the Toronto-area boards were absorbed into the one big board, the Toronto District School Board.

    The teachers who made the transition with ease had never forgotten whatever it is that they had learned in their Bachelor of Education programs, about the conceptual framework within which regular classroom teaching proceeds.

    In my case, with help from a really good resource teacher, I did make the transition, when I was at the Peel District School Board, and I’m delighted that I was able to readjust my mindset. It was among the major achievements of my professional career. Not something that many people would notice, but for me, it was highly satisfying, to be able to switch from one way of looking at what teaching entails, to another way of looking at it.

    How we learn

    That experience also brought many insights my way. I came to realize, at least at an anecdotal level, that the kind of work a person does from day to day, as well as the experiences she or he happens to have had in university – which has a connection in turn with who their key teachers or mentors were – or in fact the learning experiences that a person has had in a day care setting and in elementary school and high school, have a tremendously powerful impact on how a person functions, during each moment in the course of a working day, and in how a person sees the world. That was an insight that has had a strong impact on me. It has, I believe, enabled me to better understand many things.

    The transition that I was able to make, with the help of a resource teacher, underlined for me that the human brain is characterized, under the right learning conditions, by what in neuroscience research is described as neuroplasticity. The concept is of ongoing inspiration for me.

    The experiences I had have also convinced me that the concept of Special Education doesn’t make a lot of sense. When I retired from teaching in 2006, such programs were, as I understand – albeit may evidence was anecdotal, and I don’t know how things are now – being dismantled across the Peel District School Board.

    Rates of pay

    In the late 1970s and early 1980s the rate of pay for MTSB supply teachers was about $80 a day. After that it edged toward upwards of $200 a day, as I recall. These days, teachers fresh out of a Bachelor of Education program often struggle to get a place on the supply teacher list. The demographics of teaching have changed dramatically over the past several decades.

    In the 1980s, with the Metro Toronto School Board (MTSB), any person with a bachelor’s degree of any kind could get on the list for supply teaching. After two and a half years of supply teaching, on the advice of a principal that I worked with as a supply teacher, I took a year off to get my teaching certificate.

    That worked out well for me – although, in retrospect, I would say that starting right into teaching after a Bachelor of Education would have been a better approach than working for several years as a supply teacher beforehand. The mindset that develops from several years of supply teaching differs in significant ways, at least in my anecdotal experience, from the kindest of a regular classroom teacher. A supply teacher learns to wing it even when a lesson plan is not in place, as at times occurs in supply teaching. In some circumstances, that is a useful skill for a classroom teacher. As a standard way to approach the task at hand it may not, however, necessarily be an asset.

    In Ontario, for political reasons, it was decided some time back that supply teachers with seniority would have the first crack at job openings in preference to teachers fresh out of a Bachelor of Education program. In my anecdotal experience, as an observer of how things work in education, that policy makes no sense at all.

    When I first began supply teaching, I was for a time living on Toronto Island. As a result, quite a few people in that community launched teaching careers, by signing up as supply teachers with the Metro Toronto School Board. It was on Toronto Island, in the late 1970s and early 1980s that I first learned, in turn, the power of community self-organizing – of a community working together to do what no one else could do on behalf of the community.

    Trustee fiefdoms

    I’ve been following with interest the story of the Toronto District School Board, the board that was created when the previous Toronto-area boards of education were amalgamated into one large school board, as this recent post notes:

    Please read the conclusion from the Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board

    I feel really fortunate that, by happenstance, I happened to fall into the teaching profession after starting off as a supply teacher at a parent-cooperative infant day care centre, as I’ve described in my MCHS bio. As a teacher, I learned so many things about how the world works. When I retired from teaching, I continued to learn so many things about how the world works, that I didn’t happen to learn (or need to learn) during the years that I spent in what in some ways is a parallel universe.

    One of the best things about public school teaching is that a person can learn many things, as a teacher.

    As well, teachers in Ontario and elsewhere have done a great job in establishing a pension fund that enables retired teachers to receive a pension based on their years of service. Such a pension is, as I understand, increasingly a rarity in today’s economic environment. It’s a useful thing for any person to plan ahead, so that, one way or another, he or she can enjoy the years of retirement without a great deal of concern about where the next meal will be coming from. When I was younger, that question of the next meal was at times a matter of concern. In retrospect, such experiences have also given rise to many insights for me. It has given me a gift of empathy that I otherwise would possibly not possess.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *