My mentor, Don Warren

March 31, 2014

Chaffey’s Locks this week mourns the passing of one of its foremost citizens, Don Warren. The educator who single-handedly routed a major Hydro line away from his beloved community also found time over a decade to teach me how to teach and find my way through the educational bureaucracy. He also, and this he took most seriously, taught me how to fish.

During the 1972-73 academic year while I was enrolled in teacher training at McArthur College in Kingston, Don offered to allow me to “do his work for him” in the English Department at Rideau District High School every Friday that I wasn’t out on another placement. At the time I didn’t quite understand what was involved in this clinical and field studies project, but I wanted a teaching job in the area and this looked like a good break.

So I showed up and taught his Friday classes and marked the assignments. For each class Don wrote in elegant longhand two sheets of foolscap, one consisting of “goods” that he had observed and the other of “not so goods.” Over the course of the school year this stack of “goods” and “not so goods” from Don were by a wide margin the best feedback I received during my teacher training.

At the time at Queen’s our instructors encouraged us to experiment and find our own way to a teaching methodology which worked. Don didn’t have much use for Teaching as a Subversive Activity and insisted that in his classroom I teach his way. He laid down the basic strategies, and I learned to follow them. They worked because they were simple and well-thought-out.

On my part I tried hard to lessen the number of comments on the “not so goods” page, but the only time I came in for a serious reprimand was the day I let it out that I had never traveled through the entire Rideau Waterway. I think I made some snarky anti-Elgin comment such as, “I was born in Westport. I haven’t gone past Newboro on the Rideau.” After class at considerable volume Don made it clear to me that if I wanted to teach in this community I had to understand and participate in its culture, and that culture derived from the Rideau Waterway, and I had jolly well better learn it and learn to love it.

That summer I rented a canoe from Don just about every evening while I explored Opinicon Lake and learned the mysteries of the largemouth bass. Don was always waiting when I came in to offer advice and congratulations as I became a better fisherman.

He even guided me to a bass derby win the one day in 1975 that I brought in a good one. Apparently fish lose a lot of moisture when caught, so it’s standard procedure to stick a garden hose down the gullet of a trophy fish and fill its stomach. Any frogs or minnows lying around dead in the canoe were also welcome to join the party in the bass’s belly. But no stones. “The judges will catch lead weights and stones every time,” Don assured me.

To get back to Don as my mentor, I should mention that when a job had come up in a new senior elementary school in Smiths Falls the spring of my graduation, Don encouraged me to grab it because with declining enrollment he thought things would be tough for a few years for new teachers. Turns out I was fifteenth hired out of 500 that year. Don had advised me well.

Many student teachers “did my work for me” over a thirty-year period once I had gotten my feet under me in the classroom. I took pleasure in passing Don’s legacy down to yet another generation of educators.

A couple of years ago I was privileged to review Don’s memoir, The House on the Hill: Recollections of a Rideau Canal Lockmaster’s son. (Trafford, 2008).


2 Responses to “My mentor, Don Warren”

  1. Dave W. Says:

    Hi Rod: That was real great. I’ll point it out to Melinda and Sue if they haven’t seen it yet. Dave Warren

    • rodcros Says:


      Don has been an important figure in my life. I was happy to put some of that into words.

      Best wishes to your family at this time,

      Rod and Bet Croskery

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