From Debate and Drama Classes to the Mayor’s Office

Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s Favourite Teachers
—Xanthe Couture

His Worship Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, was unknown to many Albertans before his election as 36th mayor of the city, in October 2010.

His election, which defied all election predictions, was attributed in part to his vibrant grassroots campaign, his stand on such issues as sustainable development through limiting urban sprawl and protecting the environment, and his ability to harness social media to recruit volunteers. With his election, Nenshi became the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city.

Nenshi’s bio reveals an impressive list of accomplishments. He holds a bachelor of commerce (with distinction) from the University of Calgary and a master’s in public policy from the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He taught nonprofit management at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, wrote a regular column for the Calgary Herald and founded his own consulting firm to advise public, private and nonprofit organizations on growth. But Nenshi got his start in Calgary’s public schools, where he attended Queen Elizabeth High School.

One teacher who stands out for him during these formative years is Mrs Camille Tribe, who taught Grades 10, 11 and 12 social studies and coached Nenshi on the school’s debate team.

She was “a remarkable mentor and fantastic social studies teacher,” Nenshi says. “The skills I learned from her as my debate coach were to look at things from every angle.”

Nenshi explains that Mrs Tribe helped him develop problem solving skills, and taught him how to work with multiple stakeholders and how to understand different perspectives on a problem.

Nenshi is outgoing and engaging, and these qualities helped him succeed in his own teaching and in politics. For this he credits Mrs Karen Goerzen, a drama teacher at Queen Elizabeth High School, for teaching him about self-esteem and confidence as she directed him in several plays.

“It would surprise many to know that I didn’t start high school like that. The dusty drama room is where I learned.” Nenshi goes on to say that Mrs Goerzen pushed him beyond his limits in self-expression though acting and movement. “I was a bit of a ham, so making sure I could take direction and funnel that energy was useful,” he says laughingly.

Another favourite teacher is Mr Greg Norman, a guidance counsellor at Queen Elizabeth, who persuaded Nenshi to apply for a university scholarship and even printed the application for him to fill out.
As a teacher himself, Nenshi says that caring for the well-being of students is what makes someone become a teacher. “I was a teacher and learned to relate to people on their level.” He adds, “Remember that teachers are real human beings and their job is to help you succeed. You shouldn’t be shy to approach them to ask them for help or advice.”

Nenshi credits his successful experience in public education to his go-getter attitude. “I really enjoyed high school, and I was willing to be pushed.”

His advice to today’s students on how to succeed in education and in life is no different: “Allow yourself to be pushed.”