Nature nut was inspired by teacher

Acorn, a scientist, author and broadcaster, shares his knowledge and love of nature with fieldtrip participants.

Barbara Grinder

When asked who his favourite teacher was when he was a child attending school in Alberta, renowned scientist, writer and broadcaster John Acorn replied, "That’s easy—my Grade 5 teacher, Richard Awid."

A student at Laurier Heights School, in Edmonton, for nine years, Acorn says that Awid was his first male teacher. "But that’s not what made him memorable. He was the first teacher I had who stood up for me when other kids razzed me about looking at bugs and spiders. He legitimized my interest and showed the kids that insects really were neat things to study. He did so much for my self-confidence."

Acorn’s childhood interest in insects and arachnids led to a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Alberta and a long career in the media fostering an interest in natural history in readers and viewers.

John Acorn and his Grade 5 teacher, Richard Awid

"The other thing I remember about Mr. Awid—and maybe it’s the most important thing about him—was that he was the first person to teach us that it was important to listen to other people’s opinions. For me, that was the right time to learn that message, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten," he recalls.

Acorn admits that he wasn’t always the easiest student to have around but says that Awid wasn’t an easy teacher, either: "I remember one time I was spinning a ruler around the tip of a pen, through one of those little holes in the ruler. Mr. Awid finally got fed up with my being disruptive and had me stay after class and keep spinning that ruler. I was only allowed to stop when the tip of the pen broke from all the friction."

Awid was active in Edmonton’s Muslim community; he wrote several books about its history and was a researcher and keynote speaker on the Arab community in Alberta.

"There’s a growing xenophobia about people from other cultures in Canada," Acorn says. "It scares me and it reminds me of Mr. Awid’s lesson about respecting other people’s opinions. I think it’s a lesson we all need to remember."

John Acorn is a scientist, writer and broadcaster. He currently teaches in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. He is the host and creator of the TV program "Acorn, the Nature Nut," a 92-episode series that aired on the Discovery Channel.

 —Photos courtesy of John Acorn