I’ve been teaching under the leadership of Terry Doucette for the past decade at Liverpool Regional High School. He’s retiring this year, and I am torn.
Torn because I want to retire too!
Torn because he has always been there, in the office, and now he won’t be.
Torn because I wish great happiness and relaxation and family time and hunting adventures for him, instead of the stress and drudgery of being a school principal…
But that’s just it.
Terry never made it seem like drudgery. He never moaned and whined like the rest of us about how hard it is to be a teacher, how worried we are about the kids, how angry we are with a system that doesn’t understand our needs, how tired we are of marking and discipline and cell phones and upset parents and impolite kids… Terry was the one we complained to. He was never the complainer.
Terry didn’t hire me the first time I interviewed for a job at his school.
I was a twitchy and terrified new BEd grad and I was asked how I would adapt if I had to teach courses that were outside my specialty.
“Oh,” I blustered. I probably giggled. I was so scared, I think I also put my thumb in my mouth for a minute. “That’s no problem. I can learn stuff.”
Terry smiled at me and thanked me for my time.
He did hire me three years later when I interviewed again. Then, I hope I was slightly more poised, slightly more mature. He, as ever, joked and laughed and tried to put me at ease.
I was terrified of Terry in my first years as one of his teachers. I learned very quickly that if you were going to the office with an issue, you’d better know what it was you wanted before you walked through his door.
Me: “Terry, I have this kid, and he’s, you know… I dunno… he’s being a real shit, and not doing his work… I dunno… what should I do?”
Terry: “What’s going on in your classroom?”
Me: “Um. I dunno. Stuff? I… um… this kid is, like, you know…?”
Terry: ‘What do you want me to do?”
Me: “Um… you know… be all Heavy D on his ass? Like, make him… you know… be good?”
Me: “Yeah. Um. Ok.”
Terry: “Good. Come see me anytime.”
I learned. I learned that teachers have to be responsible for the actions in their classrooms, and that the first line of defence is always yourself. I learnt to be a self-reliant teacher, not because I couldn’t run to the office with a problem, but because Terry trusted me to be able to solve most of them myself, and that is true leadership. When I had BIG problems? He was always there.
I would send a kid to the office for swearing, insubordination, aggression, whatever… and Terry would appear at my door asking for details, asking what I would like to see happen, asking if I was Ok.
Terry never actually said: “Are you Ok?”
He would just make a joke, be a presence, address the issue. I always felt better after.
I saw Terry every day in my classes. He would make the rounds, saying hello, coming in … quite often in the middle of a pivotal moment when we were talking about the sex lives of the characters in a novel… and often staying for a few moments to talk to the kids. Terry knew everyone. Their dads, their uncles, their grandparents. He would joke with them, random moments of connection and kindness, and then move on leaving the class sometimes bewildered, sometimes laughing, always aware that Heavy D was at the helm. I usually address emails to Terry as “Dear Mighty Leader”, because he is.
You can always count on Heavy D. The kids knew it, and the teachers knew it. Even when times were tough, I always knew that Terry would pull us through.
I have seen Terry support his staff through tragedy, through scandal, through loss, through difficult times in the community, through difficult times with the education system, through difficult times in our personal lives, and the lives of our kids.
Make no mistake. Your kids are also Terry’s kids, and our kids, and Terry loves our school.
“I Love This School!”
That has been his motto and his catch phrase, for the past decade and beyond. I have heard Terry Doucette’s booming voice, even when my door was closed, even on the bleakest Mondays of a school year, walking through the halls declaring to the world “I Love This School!”
One kid would shake his head and mutter: “He’s so weird.”
Another would grin: “Heavy D is awesome!”
He started every September with that statement, and he ended every June with it as well.
I have faith in our new administration. I know that LRHS will merrily chug along, and that we will continue to love the kids and struggle with the kids and worry about the kids… but I am going to sorely miss Terry Doucette as my principal.
I will miss the high fives, miss the hunting conversations before the morning bell, miss interrupting his lunch in the cafeteria with a question or a request, and especially miss his presence in the hallways making kids smile, or cringe, and being the heart of our school.
Terry Doucette loves this school!
And this school loves you, Mr. Doucette! Happy Retirement!