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Chris Hadfield decided to be an astronaut on July 20,
1969, the night that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Over 30 years later,
on April 22, 2001, he became the first Canadian ever to leave a spacecraft
and float free in space.|
Chris Hadfield is very conscious of the role that teachers have played in helping him to reach a goal he set for himself as a child.
"Everybody you meet in life has done something you haven’t and they all have something to tell you," he says. Teachers "had a direct impact on what I know and how I learn. I owe those people a terrific debt."
When he thinks about the teachers who helped him reach his goal, one of the first names to come to Hadfield’s mind is that of Dean Murray, his Grade 13 Mathematics teacher at Milton District High School in 1976. Ironically, it was only Hadfield’s anxiety to leave high school early that brought him into Murray’s classroom.
"I transferred to Milton District High School in Grade 13 because it was on the semester system. I wanted to finish school early so I could hitchhike around Europe before going to university and I could buy myself six months by switching schools," says Hadfield. This was all despite _objections "from several people, including my parents," he recalls, but his plans introduced him to a teacher who made a lasting impression.
"Dean Murray was the first teacher I recall showing me that a textbook was not a document handed down through the ages, but was just a book written by another person who was trying to show you their explanation for something. And we actually used the textbook in that way, read it from cover to cover, including the introduction, not just skipping to page 18 and doing exercises 12 through 14," says Hadfield.
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Murray "made mathematics practical and logical and interesting for me, where I could understand the subject and see where it led and see how people had invented mathematics to explain the world around them."
But Hadfield thinks that Murray’s influence wasn’t limited to the subject matter; his approach also taught his students something about how to learn.
"He treated maths very rigorously, almost very tidily. His approach was, ‘this is a problem and you have a box full of skills and somewhere in your box of skills there is the ability to solve this problem even though you’ve never faced it before. And what you need to do is look for things in this problem that you recognize and lay it out and look for patterns you recognize, or try to put together the things you’ve learned to this point in a new way so that you can see how to solve this problem.’ It was an attitude he taught that has been useful for me right across the board and absolutely made a contribution to my success," says Hadfield.
Dean Murray, who still teaches at Milton District High School, remembers talking to Hadfield about his dreams of becoming an astronaut. He didn’t doubt he would reach his goal. "Chris was a really hard worker and I thought he would do anything he wanted to."
"When he didn’t understand something in a unit, he would go back and learn it," says Murray, "instead of just saying, ’Well, that’s over and done with.’"
Murray was one of a group of people from the Milton area who travelled to Cape Canaveral in 1995 to watch the lift off of Hadfield’s shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Mir. "It was a fabulous experience," Murray remembers. "I was just stunned. I was really, really proud and I’m gratified that he felt as highly of me then as I feel about him now. I think he’s one of the greatest Canadians we’ve ever seen."
Hadfield has appreciative comments for other teachers as well. Irene Wedeles, his teacher in an enriched program in Grades 5 to 7 at W. H. Morden Elementary School in Oakville, "treated all learning as an adventure."
"Her attitude," Hadfield says, "was ‘This is what we are going to be learning and I want you to use your own mind to discover things, to look into things, to understand things and to look at the world around you and not to view things in a static way’."
When he returned from his European backpacking trip, Hadfield studied under Craig Moffatt at Royal Military College in Kingston, a noted teacher who had a "tremendous knack for managing to capture the interest of students, teaching the subject so that it was challenging and interesting rather than just information you had to stuff into your head and regurgitate onto a final exam and then move on."
"If I ever wanted to be a teacher," Hadfield says, "I would model myself on a combination of those three teachers with their sense of challenge and understanding and lifelong commitment to what they’re doing."
Hadfield, who regularly visits schools in Canada including those in Milton where he has a bursary set up in his name to help students go on to university, is grateful that his career and achievements have enabled him to keep in touch with those from whom he learned so much.
"It’s very pleasant in my line of work and the public life that comes with it that I get now to meet a lot of people that I knew a long time ago, and it’s really nice to be able to thank directly some of the people who have taught me along the way."
"I think that, for a lot of teachers, it’s seeing the flowering of capability in your students that is the joy of teaching. I try to make sure that they realize that I understand the impact they had on me."
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