By Peter Mosher
the lab at 7:45 a.m., microscopes stand shrouded on lab benches, chairs are
stacked on tables. Diseased lungs glare from posters (What Smoking Does to
You!). Nothing at all is written on the board to be Responsible For on the
next quiz. Itís as neat and quiet here as it will be all day (although a
disturbing odour has begun to seep from a container of dirt mined by OAC
students along the Detroit River.)
Gary Malloy, French and biology teacher at Windsorís Assumption College
School, is trying to hook up a microscope to a TV monitor so everybody can
see that a skin cell is different from a water drop.
He hustles back and forth between the lab-classroom and his tiny office
cluttered with textbooks, photocopies, wall-mounted inspirational mottoes,
computer terminals, Fruitopia empties and the three science teachers who
somehow fit into it.
Malloyís only been here for three weeks. With another science teacher, he
transferred from suburban St. Josephís to gritty Assumption. "After
eight years," he says, "I was getting stale. Needed to learn new
things. They got both of us for a third-round draft pick out of teacherís
college and a custodian to be named later."
Raised and educated in Windsor, Malloy has chalked up 17 years in local
Catholic elementary and secondary schools. He coaches cross-country, not
only here but at nearby University of Windsor. When he has time, he runs
seven or eight kilometres a day. This morning, heís running to get ready
Balancing on a chair in the supplies room, poking among the bottles for
iodine to stain slides with, Malloy says many of the schoolís 750 kids are
street-wise and challenging. More than half the classes are Applied, for
kids who wonít attend university, including many with social as well as
Only yesterday, Malloy heard one of his Grade 9 students threaten another
girl. Not knowing how serious it might be, he spoke to her and informed the
principalís office. Later that day, the girl thanked him sarcastically,
loudly and publicly in the hall, "Thanks for ratting on me, sir !"
"Some of them have home problems you wouldnít believe," Malloy
says. "New teachers are always told to be tough with kids, but know
what? They get enough of that at home. Whatís great about kids is they can
have the worst day in the world and the next day they come in fine. Donít
ever take it personally."
In these last few minutes before the bell, Malloy has been back and forth to
the school office, lining up with other teachers to photocopy old textbooks,
lessons, pictures, any materials to supplement ó or replace ó the
official Ministry of Education curriculum documents. He says, "I dig up
stuff I can use, stuff that wonít discourage them. The ministry says the
curriculum should basically be the same for Applied and Academic, but
thereís no way. See, this biochem book is good because it tells them how
to pronounce the science terms. Most of these kids donít really want to
learn. If they think they canít do the work, theyíll just give up. You
have to lead them and coax them and trick them into learning."
No time for chat now. The Grade 9 Applied French students are on their way.
Malloy rewinds an audiotape, saying, "Theyíve had French for years,
theyíre not motivated to want to speak it, but at least theyíll be able
to hear some French."
The 13 boys and 11 girls file in, uniform in white shirts and dark pants and
skirts. Chairs come noisily off tables. Murmurs gradually subside. The class
recites the Lordís Prayer. Then begins a lesson about a lost chapeau.
Malloy tries to engage the students. "What do you often lose?" he
asks. "With me, itís keys."
"Man, we spent, like, four hours at my place looking for the
converter," one boy says.
"My bus pass."
"Yeah, weíve seen that happen, havenít we," Malloy comments.
He moves around the class, never still or silent, questioning students in
English and French. With these kids, classes are, as they say,
teacher-centred. For the last 20 minutes, the students work at the
computers, setting up web pages in French. The kids seem to like designing,
but have to be reminded that no English is allowed on their pages.
In this semestered school, classes last 76 minutes ó too long to keep the
attention of Grade 9 kids, Malloy says. At the end, there is much shuffling
near the door, a few attempted but unsuccessful premature departures, then
the bell and theyíre gone.
Itís 11:10, lunchtime. But first, a dozen cross-country hopefuls gather to
hear about a meet in Chicago they may be able to attend for about $20 each
because the university team is going. Malloy wants these Grade 9 kids to
build a team for the future.
Finally, he escapes to the bustling cafeteria and grabs a pasta salad, gets
sidetracked by other teachers and friendly students on the way to his
office, where he barely touches his lunch ("way too much
mayonnaise") and within a few minutes is back in the classroom writing
the parts of the cell on the board for a quiz for the next class.
The first of 15 Grade 9 Applied biology students shuffles in. Her cheery
greeting? "Sir, I just wonít be able to do the quiz today. I didnít
have time to study."
"Most people would at least say hello first," Malloy comments. He
gives the class five minutes to study.
During the quiz, Malloy turns down a girlís request to go to the washroom.
She spent seven minutes of class time there yesterday, so today sheíll
have to wait for the class to end. In reply, she fixes her teacher with a
laser-strength glare. She puts her feet on a chair, is told to put them
down. She glowers for the rest of the class.
Malloy hustles encouragingly among the students, insisting they guess at
true or false questions because thereís a 50-50 chance of being right.
Most of these kids need every mark they can get. He insists thereís no
reason to panic if they do poorly.
"If you fail, all is not lost. At the end of the course," he
promises, "Iíll drop your lowest mark altogether. If you get under 50
per cent on the quiz, you can come in at 8 a.m. tomorrow and rewrite
While the ministry is "all tied up in this testing nonsense,"
thereís no point, he says later, making a student take a course two or
three times if thereís any way to get through it the first time. Whatever
the curriculum calls for, his challenge is to teach as much as possible to a
group of kids in the real world, before they leave school in the next few
Discussion veers toward DNA. The class is interested in how a single hair
can identify a suspect at a crime scene. They work in groups at the
microscopes, identifying parts of skin cells scraped off the inside of their
cheeks with toothpicks. Malloy urges, "Gently! Gently! I donít want
you stabbing yourselves and bleeding all over the place!"
At the bell, they drift out. "I donít know if Iíll be here
tomorrow, sir." "Me either." "Me either."
"Well, if you donít show up, Iíll really miss you all. I mean
that," he responds.
Now the treat of the day for the teacher: the arrival of OAC biology
students. "Every teacher needs classes like this sometimes to keep you
sane," Malloy says. These 12 kids are interested, and Malloyís
performance is animated because heís having fun.
They talk about the often-lethal effects humans have on other living things:
poisoning the environment and the discovery that DDT reaches higher
concentrations in animals at the top of the food chain. "Thatís us,
unless weíre swimming off Florida," quips Malloy. They also talk
about the Walkerton water tragedy, as E. coli multiplied unchecked. What if
our population also grows unchecked? How many people can the earth support?
Malloy draws a graph: two billion people in 1930, four billion in 1975, six
Speaking of poisons, an odour is creeping toward the front of the class.
That terrarium of dirt these students brought back from the last undeveloped
stretch of the Detroit River shoreline is unmistakably producing stronger
fumes. Something bad in there. Itíll have to go. Smell that? Hydrogen
sulphide. Open the windows for now.
Almost every afternoon, Malloy coaches cross-country, but today is the staff
golf tournament after school. Heíll make sure another teacher is looking
after the runners and then head out.
Back in his office, thereís a note, an apology from the Grade 9 girl he
reported for threatening violence. It ends: "Iím really sorry I said
that to you in the hallway. Youíre one of the two teachers I like."
Gary Malloy beams. "You never, ever give up on them," he says.
Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board
Certified in 1984
Faculty of Education, University of Windsor