Thursday, September 22, 2011

Making music magic happen in the classroom, my dad the music teacher

When it became apparent that my time with my father was getting near the end I began thinking about all of the things that made my dad amazing.  There were two faces to my dad, the head of the Collins household and the music teacher at Van Tech. I am not ready to write about my dad on a personal level yet, but I thought I could write about him as a teacher. He was an incredibly talented musician, one who could listen to a song on a tape a few times and then go to the piano and play it.  For 35 years my dad passionately taught music to grade 8-12 students at a school on the east side of Vancouver at a school called Vancouver Technical Secondary (Van Tech). 

When he passed away on September 18th, 2011 I decided to set up a memorial page in his name on Facebook, hoping to get a few stories about a side of him that I did not get to see much.  I was not sure what would the response be as he retired nearly 10 years ago.  I have been blown away by the response of former students and I would like to thank them for taking the time to remember my dad, as all I now have are memories.  Many of the stories that have been shared are personal and have brought a lot of joy to my family as we always knew he was a special person.

My dad never sought attention, limelight and did not like to be the center of attention.  His focus was always on his students.  I would often see him sitting at his workbench with a collection of tapes listening to music that his students had given him to listen to and consider using in his class.  My dad taught me a long time ago that in order for students to be motivated to participate in classes they have to be interested in what is happening.  He chose music that would engage his students, and created a classroom environment that made students want to come. 

He had over 300 students taking in his choir classes every year.  All he asked was that you give it your all.  His classroom was always open at lunch and students would come in and spend their lunchtime singing. My dad would record himself playing songs requested by his students who wanted to practice certain songs or enter competitions.  If he could play the song on the piano and the lyrics were acceptable he was game.  Students loved coming to his class.

His memorial page after about 48 hours has over 130 people.  Words that keep coming up are passion, energy, kindness, welcoming, enthusiasm, belonging, joy and respect.  Students from years ago can still name the songs that they sung.  The funny part of that is that the very songs they mention are the ones I remember my dad playing on his stereo at home.  I remember his playing the Phantom of the Opera over and over again.  I remember giving him the Proclaimers tape and I also remember the Lion King.  These are just some of the songs mentioned by former students.

Former students credit him for becoming teachers.  Others would invite him to their weddings because of how important he had been to them.  Others were naming songs that make them think of my dad every time they hear them.  So many students commented on the connection that my dad seemed to be able to make with so many students.  Every time I bumped into a former student of his they would ask me to say hi to him.  I would pass on the message and my dad 9/10 would remember the student and also name any siblings the students had.  When he could not immediately remember the student he would immediately go and grab a yearbook, find them and then be able to tell me a story about that student which I would pass on when I would see that student again.  He loved his job, his students and his school and his memorial page shows that.

This all brings me to ask a crucial question- if you had a memorial page, what would your former students write about you?  What would they remember?  What words would they use to describe you?  Something to think about as you prepare your next day’s lessons.  Is your class one that students would be able to passionately describe 10 years later?  How about 20?  How about 40?  If not, why not?  What could you do differently?  How are you going to be remembered?

Please feel free to visit his memorial page and see what an amazing teacher he was
I miss him so much, but I am glad that his memory lives on in so many people.  Thank you.


  1. My condolences for your loss, Remi. It's a difficult thing to do, to lose a parent, and even though it happens to all of us, none of us are prepared for it.

    Your dad sounds like he was an amazing person. I'm sure you are happy for the time you got to spend with him.

  2. My condolences Remi. Sounds like you had an amazing father

  3. Remi, no words from me will ease your pain but please know that I am thinking about you and your family. The lessons from your father will continue on for years to come through you and your passion for education.

    This is an absolutely beautiful post and tribute to your father, the educator.

  4. Remi, my condolences for your loss. I lost my dad about a year and a half ago. Difficult to say the least, but realizing his impact on the community was something that made the process (somewhat) easier. It sounds like you can find comfort and inspiration in that as well. Take care of yourself.

  5. Thank you gentlemen for taking the time to read this and for your thoughts.