Teach? You have to love the job
Principal Jim Longridge didn’t know it at the time, but his hereditary ataxia, a condition of the nervous system which makes it difficult to walk, would create a bond with one of his students at Columneetza secondary in Williams Lake.
Back in 1973, all Longridge knew was that Rick Hansen was a good student – “just a quiet, getting-on-with-it kid” – and an even better athlete, who loved volleyball and who had a chance of making Canada’s Olympic team.
“His ability to jump vertically was incredible,” Longridge recalled recently from his Maple Ridge home.
Longridge, a former principal at the school, remembers Grade 11 gym class students jumping as high as they could to see who could make the highest chalk mark on the wall.
Hansen and another student always jumped the best and made the highest two marks.
But that June, Hansen was riding in a pickup truck that crashed as he was returning from a fishing trip. Hansen was thrown from the back of the truck and broke his back when he landed on a tool box that had also been thrown from the truck.
Losing the use of your legs when you’re 16 would be tough on anyone, but Longridge recalls Hansen, after missing a semester, or maybe two, just getting on with his life.
“Within a year, he just totally rebounded. I think most people would have gone into total depression, I think.”
It’s now been four decades and Longridge has been retired a dozen years after 30 teaching and managing in B.C. schools.
But Hansen didn’t forget when he rolled through Pitt Meadows this spring on the 25th anniversary of his Man in Motion World Tour. Longridge was chosen as one of the medal bearers for the anniversary relay and Hansen mentioned his former principal in his welcoming remarks to the Pitt Meadows crowd.
“I wish I’d gone,” says a mildly peeved Longridge, explaining he had to wait for the cable guy to fix his Internet.
After teaching in the Interior, Longridge moved to PItt Meadows secondary in 1990 and served there as principal until 1995, then wound up his career at Westview secondary as principal from 1995 to 2000.
He still encounters former students who recognize him, though as a teacher who saw thousands of kids passing through, it’s hard for him to reciprocate in the recognition.
He made a point of knowing the students at Westview, a task made easier by his self-appointed role of collector of overdue books. His ataxia required him to use his dad’s old scooter, which he’d use to collect overdue books for delivery to the library.
At Pitt Meadows, he gave every student a card and a chocolate loonie on their birthday. Teachers didn’t always appreciate the disruption, he recalls.
Longridge was also a mentor for Samuel Robertson Technical principal Mike Keenan when both were administrators at Westview secondary.
“He was the guy famous for having the candies in his office, which we weren’t used to seeing as school people.”
The candy drew people into the office. And I know that’s why he did that.”
If kids were in trouble, Longridge would try to help out. He’d chat with them in his office, help them with their homework and ask why they were there.
“That was unknown to me and now I regularly do that,” Keenan adds.
Longridge does remember, in particular, Jassi Sidhu, one of his Pitt Meadows students who graduated in 1993. He remembers her as a good student, quiet, though he knew “she had a great sense of humour.”
Sidhu was killed in India in 2000 and only this year has her uncle and mother been served an extradition warrant to India to face conspiracy to commit murder charges.
Malkit Kaur Sidhu, 62, mother of Jaswinder, and Surjit Singh Badesha, 67, Jaswinder’s uncle, both of Maple Ridge, remain in jail until an extradition hearing later this year.
Longridge pressed for years through writing letters to politicians for police to pursue the investigation.
And when he got replies from police that they couldn’t talk, “it just got me more and more frustrated.”
While Longridge has been out of education for more than a decade, he hasn’t lost his lifelong interest.
You have to love the job of teaching if you want to become one, he says.
It’s a field where billboards are made out of mistakes and postage stamps made out of successes.
“Anytime something goes wrong, it’s big news.
“When things go right, you don’t hear anything at all.
“I can’t imagine doing the job of teaching, if you’re not doing the job you love.”
And he still has the answers ready about the three ingredients that make a good teacher.
You have to know your subject, he says. And you must know how to teach.
“The third thing is the awareness that you’re dealing with young people who need to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.”
He doesn’t shy away from a remedy from the ongoing disputes between the B.C. Teachers Federation and government.
Longridge says school administrators should be brought back into the union, “and stop this BS that has been going way too long.”
Having principals in a new bargaining association would help modify the perspectives of some of the more militant members. Administrators usually have been the better teachers, he points out.
“Change the name and get back into real professional development,” he adds.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Longridge went to a private school, but he’s proud of the public school system.
“I really don’t think we have to look with embarrassment at the results of public schools.”