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Final Exam

Profile photo of Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario's former lieutenant-governor.

Lifelong Learner

Ontario’s lieutenant-governor reflects on her past life as a teacher — the patience gained and potential unleashed.

By Laura Bickle
Photo: Robert Faubert for the Council of Canadian Academies

Name: Elizabeth Dowdeswell

How would you describe yourself in elementary school?

Curious, eager and engaged.

And in high school?

I was ambitious, disciplined and multidisciplinary.

What was your favourite subject?

Literature, because it opened the world to a little girl in a small town.

Favourite non-fiction heroes?

I’ve been inspired by many — including leaders like Nelson Mandela who teach us humility and service, as well as those in the arts and music, such as Yo-Yo Ma, who bring me to tears and can so powerfully tap into my emotions. And, every day I hear stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities.

What do you wish you had been taught in school but weren’t?

Conversational French and a number of other languages.

Favourite way to spend recess?

The story is told that in elementary school I sat on the steps and read; in high school we always gravitated to the piano and practised our dancing.

Important lesson learned at school?

Acceptance of diversity.

What’s your fondest school memory?

Attending in bad weather — only a few of us could attend because the school buses were cancelled, so we had the benefit of being with our teachers informally without a schedule or agenda.

Most appreciated quality in a teacher?

The willingness to see me as a person, not simply as a student in a class.

If you could create a new course, what would you choose?

Something that helps students to “connect the dots” and help them understand that the real world requires the ability to synthesize knowledge from the physical and social sciences, the arts and humanities.

How did you become a teacher?

After earning a bachelor of science degree in home economics at the University of Saskatchewan, I applied for and was granted a teaching certificate.

What prompted you to leave teaching?

I transitioned from teaching in high schools to universities and then to teaching teachers and developing curricula. The move to public service within provincial, federal and international settings was evolutionary and natural.

Best lesson learned as a teacher?


Fondest memory as a teacher?

Contributing to the unleashing of potential and creativity among individuals of any age.

How does your teaching experience impact your current work?

Once a teacher, always a teacher. Life is all about learning.