Over 40 years ago, Robert Service Senior Public School opened its doors. Jack Rilley has been teaching there since the very first day.
Arriving at school 6:30 every morning, Rilley, who is entering his 45th teaching year, prepares his classroom for his students and the upcoming day, but says none of it is for his personal satisfaction.
“I’m not here to impress people,” he said. “I’m here to do the best job I can for these students.”
Sean Gray, 39, went to Robert Service from 1984 to 1986 and remembers students being excited to go to science class.
“First and foremost, he seemed to be everybody’s favourite teacher,” Gray said. “Everybody said it.”
Rilley has been the science teacher at Robert Service since 1971, which means he has taught every student.
“Lots of parents say, ‘my son or daughter is eight years old. You’ll be teaching them in another eight years or so,’” Rilley said. “I might not be around in eight years.”
“I actually got to do experiments instead of just reading about them.”
— Rachel Foote
Gray’s daughter, Rachel Foote, was also a student of Rilley’s. She says she thinks it’s amazing Rilley has been teaching for so long.
“Knowing Mr. Rilley, teaching is his life and it’s nice to see teachers who are so dedicated to what they do,” she said. “Forty-five years in any one career is a long time. I think he’s definitely made a difference in his students’ lives.”
Foote attended Robert Service from 2003 to 2005 and says Rilley was always open and willing to teach the class everything he knew about science.
“He took learning to new levels,” she said. “It wasn’t just a regular, old boring textbook class. I actually got to do experiments instead of just reading about them.”
Rilley says it is imperative not to make comparisons between past and present students.
“I treat each student as an individual,” he said. “I don’t compare them to their brothers or sisters. I don’t compare them to their parents. Every person has their own individual qualities. I never say to them, ‘I taught your brother and he did this and he did that.’ I never do that.”
“[I’ll teach] as long I’m healthy and as long as I think I’m doing a good job.”
— Jack Rilley
Foote, a Home Depot paint associate, says her most vivid memory of Rilley was on her first day of class.
“The first question he asked us was if we believed in UFOs,” she recalls. “If yes, you stood on one side. If no, you stood on the other side of the classroom. If you said yes, he’d say ‘prove it.’ That was his catch phrase.”
Gray, a printer, says Rilley treated him and his brother as individuals.
“I went through Service three years after my brother and he definitely remembered my brother,” Gray said. “I never noticed any comparison between the two of us.”
Rilley says a large part of his teaching is hands-on, giving students an opportunity to do science experiments.
“When you have the chance to do something, as opposed to just reading about it, it tends to stick with you better,” Gray said.
Rilley says students will often stop him in public.
“I took my cousin to the hospital one time. She cut her eye up and I took her to Scarborough General,” he said. “Out came a doctor that was one of my students.”
Rilley says his teaching career has to end eventually.
“[I’ll teach] as long I’m healthy and as long as I think I’m doing a good job,” he said.