Fulton secondary teacher Terry Downton helps Grade 9 students Kate Coutlee (left) and Jenna Baron-Purcell with their video editing.

Fulton secondary teacher Terry Downton helps Grade 9 students Kate Coutlee (left) and Jenna Baron-Purcell with their video editing.

Fulton teacher earns national honour

Terry Downton's teaching skills and innovation have earned him a nod from the Prime Minister's Office

A Vernon teacher has been recognized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his dedication and skill in the classroom.

Fulton teacher Terry Downton has received a 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, Certificate of Achievement.

“It’s a tremendous honour,” said Downton, department head for business education and career education, and a teacher at Fulton for 15 years. “This is just wonderful — it’s my Stanley Cup.”

The awards program honours outstanding teachers who instil in their students a love of learning, encourage excellence and help young Canadians gain the knowledge and skills to excel in the 21st century.

“For you, teaching is more than a profession, it is a passion that you pass on to young people each and every day,” said Harper, in his letter to Downton.

Award applicants were asked to share what they do with students in the classroom and how they integrate technology into their classroom routine.

Collaborating with resource room teacher Erin Hobkirk and Learn Now B.C., Downton implemented a digital media literacy unit called My World to all Grade 9 students, where they participate in an online simulation, making ethical decisions around online bullying, cyber fraud and online safety.

“I also work closely with (business ed teacher) Jason Anderson, who is wonderful to work with and a computer genius.”

Downton has a long list of accomplishments at the school, from fixing broken strings on the school’s badminton racquets at no charge, to taking his accounting students to Vancouver to participate in Junior Achievement’s Titan Business Challenge.

In addition to his work in the classroom, Downton has been graduation transition coordinator for a number of years, where he guides Grade 12 students in completing a grad transition plan, where they research different careers, reflect on positive experiences and set goals for the future.

“After marking each of the 175 Graduation Transition Plans, I invite students to an exit interview, where they are asked to articulate their future plans to a teacher and a member of the community,” he said. “The confidence that students show is amazing and teachers comment how awesome it is to see the fruits of their labours. It is truly a day of celebration.”

Other activities include a Dragon’s Den business competition, where Downton leads his Planning 10 classes in writing a business plan and submitting it to a local business competition

“This is an excellent experience for our students, and college business students are invited into our classes to act as mentors as students plan their business ventures.”

In his accounting courses, Downton strives to make the class relevant and applicable to students’ everyday lives.

“It’s not just read the text, we’re trying to be innovative in accounting. We do a huge amount of computerized accounting, so we’re making it relevant.”

The president of the Vernon Business Education Teachers’ Association, Downton organizes several meetings a year where teachers get together to share what is happening in their school and how they can improve what they do.

“We bring local business teachers together and that collaboration is super powerful.”

He has been curriculum coordinator for the B.C. Business Education Association for four years and was recently elected president of this organization.

As well, during lunch time he coordinates the school store, which runs three ventures: a healthy food venture for students trying to offer healthy food choices to their peers; clothing, where the group buys and sells clothing with the school’s colours and logos, creating school spirit at the same time; Picture This, where students create displays of sports teams so that each player in the school has a memento of their experience on the school club or team.

“I love being in the classroom, when students see the relevance in what they’re doing, there’s that aha moment that we look for,” he said. “They need to be well-rounded and we want them to have financial literacy skills, so it’s putting the resources together in a meaningful way.”

The irony of winning a teaching award is not lost on Downton, whose last day in the classroom is Nov. 8, after which he leaves for a new job in Fort McMurray, Alta., with Suncor Energy.

Passionate about teaching, Downton said the last school year was a difficult one. The government’s response to the province-wide teachers’ job action provided the catalyst for switching careers.

“I was absolutely furious with what happened last year, and the way teachers have been treated recently bothered me to the core.

“I want teachers to be recognized, and I don’t think our society does a great job of recognizing what teachers do on a daily basis with the kids. Last year was tough.”

Armed with his MBA as well as his business education experience, Downton had little difficulty finding work outside his current profession.

“I am the lowest paid MBA in Canada, and I now get to use my skills, so when I saw a posting for a learning coordinator at Suncor, I jumped at the chance to do this as it’s both professional development and job training, so this is a perfect combination.”

Taking a leave of absence from the district in case the new gig doesn’t work out, Downton leaves his current profession with mixed feelings.

“I have one of the best jobs at Fulton and Malcolm (Reid, school principal) is amazing, but this was just a huge opportunity to do something different.”

Reid said the school will not be the same without Downton, and that given his passion, commitment, and specific skill set he will be hard to replace.

“The PM award is a great acknowledgement of the hard work Terry has put into his courses and profession over many years,” said Reid. “Terry has been on the cutting edge of business ed curriculum and this award recognizes this passion and commitment.”

In his letter of reference to the award committee, Reid said Downton has always demonstrated a passion to explore the full uses of technology and as such is a technology leader on staff.

“Terry’s true passion is entrepreneurship as he imbeds these concepts in every course he teaches,” said Reid. “Terry is also our grad transitions lead teacher, a non enrolling position responsible for coordinating every Grade 12 student to complete their Grad Transitions Plan and exit interview. This is an extremely large undertaking that requires excellent mentoring for every Grade 12 student, as well as strong leadership over our entire staff.”