The Social’s Lainey Lui recalls the English teacher who taught her the importance of presenting yourself with respect and having integrity.
By Bill Harris
Photos: Mike Ford
Elaine “Lainey” Lui experienced a lot in Grade 7 — a new school, new teachers, new friends, new attitudes. As she tried to fit in, she went through several personalities, some of which were more commendable than others.
“I had that year of being the new girl — shy and awkward — then transitioning into becoming popular and not very pleasant,” recalls Lui. “I went through this gamut of identities. And Mrs. Grimsley had to be my English teacher through all of it.”
Caryl Grimsley proved to be an important constant in Lui’s life during that transformative year at the Toronto French School (TFS). And even though they haven’t been in contact since, Lui says she continues to be influenced by her memories of Mrs. Grimsley.
“That’s wonderful to hear, it means a lot,” says Grimsley, who still teaches at TFS, which was recently rebranded as TFS — Canada’s International School. “I don’t think teachers realize the impact we can have. Even if we affect only one person, that’s important, isn’t it?”
Lui is best known for her entertainment-based website (laineygossip.com), as well as being a co-host on CTV’s The Social and an etalk correspondent. But when she thinks back to her trials and tribulations at school, she expects many new Canadian families will recognize her path. Her parents immigrated from Hong Kong and her father eventually identified TFS as the school he wanted his daughter to attend; he worked three jobs to send her there.
After passing the entry exam, Lui arrived to classmates who had already-established friendships. It was intimidating on many fronts. She recalls watching a student arrive in a Ferrari every day, while she asked her dad to stop around the corner in his Ford Fiesta.
Although some adults maintain perfect memories of their long-ago school days, Lui acknowledges that she isn’t one of those people. Generally, her recollections are spotty. But Mrs. Grimsley is the one teacher she remembers very clearly.
Given Lui’s subsequent career in which communication is of prime importance, it makes sense that she would have a natural connection to an English teacher. But beyond that, one of the words Lui uses to describe Grimsley is “cinematic,” in the sense that it always seemed as if she had stepped right out of a movie.
“She was slim and she wore high-collar jackets or tops, sensible shoes and the skirts were always below the knee — if you close your eyes and picture a classic English school teacher, that’s what she looked like,” Lui says. “And even her name. If you read any children’s book about an English teacher who was tough but taught life lessons, her name would be Mrs. Grimsley.”
According to Lui, as Mrs. Grimsley introduced her to Shakespeare and the vast world of English literature and poetry, even the way she spoke was memorable. Lui says she equated her teacher’s “very proper” speech with Queen Elizabeth II. To Lui’s young ears, she was getting a traditional English education from someone who was the real deal. Mrs. Grimsley sounded like royalty. Therefore, Lui assumed her teacher was English, without ever knowing for sure if that were true.
Grimsley chuckles as she hears this, and says, “Yes and no. I was born to an English mother and Scottish father, so we spent time in England. We then went to India, and then back to Scotland. So British, yes, absolutely.”
Having graduated high school in Scotland, Grimsley then applied to what was known as the Athenaeum in Glasgow to study music. She was a pianist, as well as a singer in a trio. However, she was late with her submission and had to wait another year, so she moved in another direction.
Grimsley obtained a teaching degree from Jordanhill College of Education, at Glasgow University. She then began her career in Ayr, teaching Grade 6 and 7 English, religion, mathematics, geography, history.
But Grimsley wasn’t ready to settle down; she had a passion for travel. She wound up in Toronto for an extended period, where she worked at different jobs until she secured a two-year teaching position at Cottingham Junior Public School in the Toronto District School Board.
Grimsley hadn’t lost her wanderlust, though, and when her travel plans conflicted with her job, she was told she would have to resign. But eventually, she found herself back in Toronto for a special reason.
“I had met somebody who asked me to come back to Toronto and marry him,” Grimsley says with a smile. “So here I am.”
Upon returning, she applied to TFS after seeing an ad. “Harry Giles, who started this school, gave me an interview and,” Grimsley recalls, “I’ve been here ever since.”
Grimsley has taught everything from Grade 2 to Level V (the equivalent to Grade 13). Her focus has been in the English language and literature programs but she has coached athletics, choirs and public speaking. She was the Junior School vice-principal before moving to the Senior School, where she is now responsible for the national Poetry in Voice competitions.
Grimsley acknowledges that many things have changed in education throughout the years, from technology to societal pressures to ministry requirements. Asked if she has advice for new teachers, she says it’s important to embrace change. However, there are certain basics that she still demands from her students, such as politeness and respect.
Lui vividly remembers one occasion in Grade 7 when she failed to meet Mrs. Grimsley’s standard. It was during a holiday concert in which Lui was performing. Lui had recently become friends with a “more popular” crowd, and she admits that she was being “too cool for school,” giggling, rolling her eyes and not singing along.
“That’s when Mrs. Grimsley pulled me aside,” Lui says. “I can’t remember verbatim what her words were but it was along the lines of, ‘Even though you think what you’re doing is cool, you’re actually not cool at all. You’re not being respectful to your classmates, and this is not impressing me.’”
Lui says that even now, simply retelling the story gives her an acute sense of how she felt at that moment. It’s obvious why Mrs. Grimsley’s words hit home. “Because I knew she was right,” Lui confirms.
Grimsley doesn’t remember the specific incident but thematically it rings a bell. “I still would do something like that. I think manners are so important.”
Lui doesn’t claim that she became a perfect student following the concert but, by year’s end, she had won several academic awards and had made her father very proud. She instinctively knew, even back then, that part of Mrs. Grimsley would remain with her forever. To this day, whenever she hears the expression “bad form” Lui associates it with the kind of behaviour that Mrs. Grimsley wouldn’t like.
Asked what message she would want to give to Mrs. Grimsley, after all these years, Lui replies, “I don’t really have anything clever, I would just say thank you.”
Grimsley clearly is touched when Lui’s words are repeated to her. “Thank her for me, too,” she says softly. “This does my heart so much good.”
In this profile, notable Canadians honour the teachers who have made a difference in their lives and have successfully embraced the College’s Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, which are care, respect, trust and integrity.