By Nick Hart
Once upon a time, students used to file into classrooms and greet their teachers with a wide smile and a shiny apple. The apple has since become symbol synonymous with education, but perhaps it’s time for that to change.
Wouldn’t it be so much better if instead of an apple, a teacher got the gift of hockey instead?
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Cameron Gaunce had the light bulb go off over his head and came up with the “Tickets for Teachers” program, a way for local teachers to get rewarded for their hard work with free tickets to Penguins home games.
“When you go to sporting events, you see a lot of people get their due credit,” Gaunce said. “Soldiers get their credit, which they deserve. Police get their credit, which they deserve. But I thought teachers were another group that can change a lot of people, inspire a lot of people’s lives. Sometimes, I don’t think they get the credit that they fully deserve, so I thought I could help out with that a bit.”
Gaunce says the inspiration for the program came from seeing other players, either teammates from years past or a handful of guys on his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, purchase season tickets and then give them away to kids or charities. It was his idea, though, to make the program specifically catered to educators. With his four-year old nephew in mind, he’s grown to appreciate the role of a teacher in a child’s life.
“Educators play an enormous role to a kid’s development, not only in what they’re teaching the kids from a curriculum perspective, but a lot of teachers do a lot more than that,” Gaunce said. “My nephew, he’s in school right now, and he’s had to learn a lot about paying attention and sitting still and such. As you grow up, you learn a lot of different life lessons from your teachers. When teachers are inspirational, when they take the time to invest in the kids, it really helps the children and it helps them grow up, whether it’s elementary school, high school or university.”
It’s not just seeing things from the perspective of his nephew, either. Gaunce had his fair share of inspirational teachers in his life, as well. He recalls his days as a self-proclaimed “loud-mouth kid”, but the relationship he formed with his Grade 2 teacher is one he still holds dear to this day. Mr. Chlan made a huge impression on Gaunce’s life.
“I still keep in touch with him to this day and he comes to my games whenever I’m in Toronto,” Gaunce said. “He was someone throughout the years who not only inspired me, but inspired a lot of people. I know it was only Grade 2, but when he worked with me, he made learning, I don’t want to say fun, but he presented it in a way that you knew it was benefiting you. He celebrated each student for the person that they were.”
Gaunce also credited his minor hockey coach and gym teacher at St. Brother André High School in Markham, Ont. as someone who not only helped him, but just about everyone he knew. Paul Titanic has seen the likes of big-shot NHLers Steven Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto and Gaunce go through his halls, but nobody fell under his radar or was too small to get a helping hand.
“If you walked through the school, everyone knows who [Titanic] is,” Gaunce said. “Everyone says, ‘Hello, Mr. T’. He knows everyone and talks to everyone, and he’s someone who just helps kids out all the time.
“It’s someone like that who I would love to help out. Just get them to a game if they can, and even if it’s not getting a game, it’s putting a spotlight on them for a bit.”
So if there’s a teacher that sounds like Mr. Chlan or Mr. T that you think deserves a spotlight for all their hard and important work, nominate them through Gaunce’s Tickets for Teachers program.
To submit an educator, just go to the Penguins website (wbspenguins.com), hover over the “Community” tab and click on the Tickets for Teachers link. From there, you can fill out an application for your favorite teacher. Hopefully, this gives them a chance to receive the overdue recognition he or she rightfully deserves.