paikin.jpg (9139 bytes) Remarkable Teachers

TVOntario's Steve Paikin remembers with admiration the man who impressed on him the beauty and timelessness of the classics of music and the fine arts.


Steve Paikin’s Remarkable Teacher

Steve Paikin can trace a direct connection between the influence of his high school teacher, Bryan Wylie, and his present-day success as the erudite and multi-faceted host of TVOntario’s popular public affairs program, Studio Two.

Despite the encouragement of his symphony-going parents, who made weekly attendance at the Hamilton Symphony mandatory, Paikin as a teenager was more likely to be drawn to Monday Night Football, he recalls. But Brian Wylie, his high school teacher at Hillfield-Strathallan College in Hamilton, an independent school Paikin attended from Kindergarten to Grade 13, is the person with whom he credits impressing on him the beauty and timelessness of the classics of music and the fine arts.

"I can remember seeing pictures by artists like Constable, Turner and Goya for the first time in his class. I heard Pictures at an Exhibition for the first time. Some 25 years later, I can still remember precisely seeing those pictures and hearing that music," marvels Paikin.

"He stood out," says Paikin of Wylie. "He was just such an inspirational teacher."

Wylie taught English and Latin throughout Paikin’s high school years. One of the strong memories that Paikin carries of Mr. Wylie – Paikin still thinks of him in such terms 25 years later – is of the additional course he created. All students were expected to take the regular English course, but Wylie designed an optional course for students in the liberal arts stream.

"The class was unique," says Paikin. "It was called English II, but Mr. Wylie used it to introduce us to great art and music as well." The course proved to be Paikin’s introduction to many beautiful and culturally significant works of art.

People from the Ministry of Education came round to the school on a number of occasions, recalls Paikin, to check on what was happening in the class. And it wasn’t an easy course, says Paikin. In a comment that would sit well with many people today, Paikin recalls the emphasis on assessment of just what was being learned. "There were tests and essays all the time," he says.

"Mr. Wylie would put on a piece of music, and we would listen to it and discuss it. He devised the course himself. The idea was that to be a well rounded human being, you need to be familiar with and understand good art and good music," Paikin says of Wylie’s influence.

Wylie’s enthusiasm for his subject, as much as the subject itself, is what made such an impression on the teenaged Paikin. "Every day he expressed a genuine enthusiasm for his subject in a way that nobody else did. He was our Mr. Chips. He was a single guy who absolutely dedicated himself to us, in a unique fashion."

Wylie was just as effective as a Latin teacher, says Paikin. Among the memories that stand out, says Paikin, was a school trip to Italy when Paikin was in Grade 12. Not surprisingly, learning Latin took on a whole new dimension. "We saw the Forum, the Coliseum, the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated. He made it all so vivid. It came alive for us," says Paikin.

On a recent episode of Studio Two, a guest made an observation about the impact of teachers on students’ lives. Paikin was particularly struck by his guest’s remark that it’s rarely new government initiatives or bureaucratic documents that inspire a student – that it’s almost always a teacher that strikes a chord.