Forty years ago, Robert Service Senior Public School opened its doors to Scarborough students. Jack Rilley, dedicating his job to his students, has been there since day one.
Rilley, who is in his 45th teaching year, arrives at school at 6:30 every morning. He then prepares his classroom for his students and the upcoming day. However, none of this preparation is for his own personal satisfaction.
“I’m not here to impress people,” he says. “I’m here to do the best job I can for these students.”
Rilley says he is part of a team at Robert Service and all the work they do is for the benefit of the students. He has been the science teacher at Robert Service since 1971, which means he has taught every student who has attended the school. Sean Gray, 39, went to Robert Service from 1984 to 1986 and remembers students being excited to go to Rilley’s science class.
“First and foremost, he seemed to be everybody’s favourite teacher,” Gray says. “Everybody said it.”
Gray’s daughter, Rachel Foote, was also a student of Rilley’s. She said she thinks it’s amazing Rilley has been teaching for so long. 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. She says he made learning fun by allowing students to do experiments instead of just reading out of a text book.
“Knowing Mr. Rilley, teaching is his life and it’s nice to see teachers who are so dedicated to what they do,” she says. “Forty-five years in any one career is a long time. I think he’s definitely made a difference in his students’ lives.”
Rilley says although he has taught many generations of students, including parents and their children, he still treats each student as an individual.
“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,” he says.
Gray, a printer, remembers how differently Rilley treated him and his brother.
“I went through Service three years after my brother and he definitely remembered my brother,” Gray says. “I never noticed any comparison between the two of us.”
However, Rilley jokes about the many generations of families he has taught.
“I’ve taught some of the parents of my students now. I said, ‘When your grandparents come, it’s time for me to stop,” he says.
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 [the class] 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.”
Foote says she stood on the “yes” side of the classroom.
“(Rilley) went up to the first student and said, ‘prove it’ and then I hid behind somebody taller than I was because I had no comeback for that,” she says.
Rilley says it is his father who got him interested in science. They used to go to their cottage, where Rilley would identify trees and go fishing. As a result, a large part of his teaching is hands-on, giving students an opportunity to do science experiments, Rilley says. “When you have the chance to do something, as opposed to just reading about it, it tends to stick with you better,” Gray says.
According to Rilley, he helps his students because he wants them to be successful in life.
“I meet them all over the place, he said. “They stop me on the streets and thank me, but I don’t do it for that reason.”
Rilley says he teaches for the students, not for the recognition his teaching gets him. He says he knows his teaching career has to end eventually, but wants to teach for as long as he can.