Persistence helps alumnus succeed in education

July 27, 2021

Frank Loreto with his wife, Ruth.

For alumnus Frank Loreto, BEd ’79, his life has followed a verse from Bruce Cockburn’s song from the Festival of Friends, ‘Open your heart and grow with what life sends.’

This lesson began early and continued throughout Loreto’s life. First, he never thought he would become a teacher. It just wasn’t on his career radar. In fact, he was going to medical school, or so he thought. However, he faced a reality check after struggling in his science courses at university.

“After a horrible first year at Western in sciences, I learned by Christmas, my medical school dreams were just that,” Loreto said.

As a first-year student at one of Western’s affiliated university colleges, King’s University College, which is across from St. Peter’s Seminary, he thought about entering the priesthood. As a result, he turned away from the sciences and took philosophy, social work, and English courses in his second year. However, he realized he wasn’t meant to go in this direction.

A third change in his third year at university meant Loreto switching to an English degree. He took four English courses and a French course. To complete his degree, he had to take five English courses in his fourth year to graduate with an Honours English degree.

However, he didn’t know what he would do with his degree, but he thought teaching made sense because he loved literature.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, he applied to the Faculty of Education. But the retired educator didn’t get accepted the first time he applied. However, the rejection didn’t deter him. Instead, he was accepted into graduate school. While he described his time at graduate school as ‘a bust,’ because he didn’t love it, he did get valuable teaching experience as a teaching assistant.

“Go figure, I couldn’t get in to teach high school, but I could teach the kids after they graduated,” Loreto said.

However, persistence paid off and Western Education accepted Loreto’s second application. He took School Librarianship on the advice of his cousin who told him that those teacher candidates were having fun. He had no idea what School Librarianship was or how it would influence his life.

“I had a blast. It was like a home room. We had a tight group of disparate folks who enjoyed working and being together,” Loreto said.

He also had to rely on resiliency after graduating from Western Education because teaching jobs were scarce. He resorted to cold calling school boards and waiting for the school board job advertisements in the want ads in the Saturday Globe and Mail.

“There is nothing harsher than having a resume returned, folded with the comment, ‘If we were looking for teachers, we would have asked,’” he said.

But Loreto persisted and he was hired at Sacred Heart High School in Walkerton, Ont., as a teacher librarian, during the summer after graduation. After a brief time at the school, he accepted an English teaching position at Cobalt-Haileybury High School in Haileybury, Ont. The job was for one semester. After his contract expired, he found another one-semester contract position at North Park Collegiate in Brantford, Ont.

Once the North Park Collegiate contract expired, he moved to Rainy River High School for the next five years.

“By the end of those years, I was married and had two kids. For either set of grandparents, it was a two-day drive just to get to us. So, we decided to pull up stakes,” Loreto said.

His final posting was in Brampton, Ont., where he accepted an English teaching position at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School. Loreto said moving from a town of 1,000 to a school of 1,800, was a bit of culture shock.

In his second year, he became the teacher librarian and during his career, he saw many changes to school libraries.

“Goodbye to catalogue cards and the tedium of typing, filing, and maintaining the card catalogue. Hello to computers, CD-ROM, Library automation, and the Internet. We pioneered them all,” Loreto said.

Looking back at his teaching career, he was never sure if he was on the right track. He thinks having doubt is essential, otherwise complacency sets in. Generally, he was ruled by instinct and was open to good ideas if they benefitted students.

Regarding COVID-19, Loreto said veteran teachers can’t provide advice to new educators because the pandemic and its aftermath is brand new territory.

“Kids are kids no matter what. Their minds are in their most absorbent state now and don’t be afraid to fill their heads with all sorts of information,” Loreto said. “I have retained information from my high school courses better than my university ones.”

Loreto advises new teachers to be open to new ideas and to get involved with their local union and in their schools. They can coach sports or be involved in the arts or other extra-curricular activities.

“Meeting kids outside the classroom situation opens up a different connection for them and for you. Just be careful not to volunteer for everything,” he said.

Loreto also credits his wife Ruth, who was also a teacher with him in Brampton, for his success.

“We met at Western, but it was the teaching that reconnected us and well, the rest is history. That’s a bonus of going into teaching – you never know who you will meet.”