CBC’s David Gray says good teachers make a huge difference

By Jacqueline Louie
Release Date: July 19, 2010

David Gray, host of CBC Radio’s The Homestretch, says it takes just a few good teachers to turn on a child’s imagination. Gray, a journalist with two decades of experience covering stories in Canada and around the world, has three favourite teachers who did that for him.

He has great memories of his junior high school French teacher, Mrs Chris Knebel, who taught at Senator Patrick Burns Junior High School. “She made a classroom more than a place you went for class—it was OK to hang around,” says Gray, citing a time when his best friend lost his father and Knebel instinctively knew “that we needed a place to hang out.”

Gray also remembers Knebel’s ability to sing and play the guitar but most of all he gives her credit for suffering through some terrible French. “That was a pretty noble act in Alberta in the late ’70s,” he adds with a smile.

Gray went on to study biology with Woody Knebel (Chris Knebel’s husband), a science teacher at William Aberhart High School. He remembers Mr Knebel’s classroom “filled with a giant snakeskin and all sorts of weird and wonderful things that he had picked up in his world travels.”

Mr Knebel fostered students’ interest in nature and the outdoors and encouraged them to ask questions: “He brought this incredible enthusiasm to learning. It was thanks to Mr Knebel’s inspiration,” says Gray, “that I became a park naturalist at Peter Lougheed

Provincial Park for three summers in the late 80s while I studied history and political science at the University of Calgary.”

The skills Gray learned as a park naturalist got him through his undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism. Both completed at the University of Western Ontario.

“As a park naturalist,” Gray explains, “you take complex ideas and present them to people in an understandable way that entertains as well as informs. It led to my having an interest in telling stories of a different kind, which got me into journalism.”

Gray also has vivid memories of his high school English teacher, Mrs Pat Motherwell. “She had the gift of scaring kids straight. She would not allow you to perform beneath your potential. There is a great quote about a teacher being someone who makes herself progressively unnecessary, and that’s what she did. She brought us up to her standards.”

Chris and Woody Knebel both fondly remember their former student.

“David was a great guy, very athletic, very involved—a charming young man,” says Woody Knebel, who still teaches at Aberhart. “He was a strong student, friendly, charismatic and a pleasure to teach.”

Chris Knebel agrees and adds that “Dave was a really nice guy who was good to everybody and had a sense of humour.” She also recalls looking forward to seeing him with his friends Tom and Jim; the three of them used to visit her classroom every day after school. “I thought of them as the Three Musketeers,” she recalls. 

As far as advice for young people goes, Woody Knebel says that “it’s important to follow your dreams and do your best to really enjoy the moment. You never know when your time will be up, so enjoy life. Seize the moment.”

Chris Knebel thinks teachers have an important opportunity to mentor students. “It’s important for young people to have mentors,” she says, “especially junior high students. If even one adult—usually a teacher—mentors a student, that student is much better off.”