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Steve Bartlett: To the teachers who go the extra mile

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The final week of school takes me back to Grade 9 and a year-end wood-working project.

It was for industrial arts, a required course not meant for me.

I was then, and I remain, Canada’s least-handiest person.

The earth worms in your garden are better with their hands than me.

Mr. Ciz, industrial arts instructor and ultra-cool teacher, found that out the loud and expensive way in one of the first classes that year.

After he spending considerable time teaching us how to use the band saw, I busted it seconds into my turn.

I’ll never forget the loud clanging noise the broken saw made or the sight of him standing at the back of class with hands over his head and, in a defeated voice, saying, “Steve, you broke my band saw!”

Not that interested in woodworking and fearing a repeat of the band saw incident, I steered towards projects requiring only hammers and hand saws for the rest of the year.

So, while my classmates were using lathes and routers to make elaborate things like lamps and frames, I was making a key rack.

Here’s my elaborate blueprint: a varnished block of pine plus three hooked screws equals a key rack.

It earned a grade of C or a D, helping position me not-so-perfectly for a year-end project worth 50 per cent of the final mark.

The wood chips were down.

I needed a successful project.

Ciz realized this, and that despite my bad aptitude, I had good attitude.

He genuinely wanted me to succeed and encouraged me to find a project I’d love to complete.

So, as the year wound to a close, he gave me the green light to complete what is likely the lamest project in school woodworking history — a basketball backboard.

Yup, I cut a sheet a plywood in a half, painted it white, and screwed a basketball rim on it.

It was terribly uncomplicated, but I’d argue my project got more use and gave its creator more enjoyment than any other made in the shop that year. I spent hours and hours shooting baskets, something I still love to do.

I don’t remember the actual grade, but Ciz gave me a decent mark for the backboard and the year.

That was a relief because I was nervous about flunking industrial arts and, at that point, I was an honours student who had never failed a test, let alone a course.

I always think about Ciz and that backboard during the last week of school — even though it was 35 (gulp) years ago.

His actions taught me about aptitude, compassion and patience, and that a one-size-fits-all expectation is not always practical.

I salute him, and as another school year ends, all the teachers who helped students get through in 2018.

Steve Bartlett is an editor with SaltWire Network. He dives into the Deep End Mondays to escape reality and band saws. Reach him at

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