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“This place has become part of who I am”
BY ALANA TRACHENKO
After 40 years teaching in the Winnipeg School Division and almost 20 as principal at Tec Voc High School, Gordon Crook plans to say goodbye to education.
The Elmwood High School grad got into teaching late, and he says he never really planned on it. At 30, Crook was working for the federal government and ended up doing projects in schools.
"I spent time in schools. At the same time, my friends were having kids, so I was having connections with young kids, and I just seemed to connect," Crook said. "At the same time, if I was going to do anything with the feds, it meant going to Ottawa. I’m a Winnipeg guy."
Crook took a leave of absence from his government job, got his certificate in teaching, and eventually got a teaching job at William Whyte, where he later met his wife.
To this day, Crook says working with students is the best part of the job.
"There’s two important things I do here. One is connect with kids, and the other is to hire, nurture and empower good staff, good teachers. I do all kinds of other things, but really those are the two important ones," Crook said..
At this point, Crook has hired 90 per cent of the staff he works with. That, and the challenges that come with leading a large school, have kept him at home at Tec Voc for many years.
"I know this place and it’s a great school, and plus it’s full of people who I hired, so it means we’re on the same wavelength," he said. "I’ve never been good at totally defining a line that says I’m the boss, and we’re colleagues. That’s the way the school works, collaboratively… I have very positive relationships with the staff."
Crook said he’s been "retiring" for many years now, but in his 40th year with the WSD, now seems like the right time — poetic, as he puts it. It hasn’t been easy to leave something he still enjoys.
"The classic line is you’ll know if you’re not having fun anymore, so about six years ago I realized if I was going to retire when I wasn’t having fun anymore, I would never retire," he said. "That was never going to be the case.
"Throughout my whole career the question I liked least is, ‘How was your weekend?’ I mean that sincerely. I prefer weeks to weekends because I just love being a teacher and a school leader, and that still applies, even now."
And he’s had the opportunity to step into some other roles while at Tec Voc as well.
"Every other year we have a staff, and sometimes student, band, and I’m the singer. So how else could I get to be a rock and roll star? I was never going to be a centre fielder for the New York Yankees but I got to be Mick Jagger," Crook said.
The school is throwing Crook a retirement and birthday party (his 71st) on June 19 at 4:30. It’s open to former students and staff.
"I never envisioned having my party for retirement anywhere else," Crook said. "This place has become part of who I am."