Almost 30 years ago, Jackie Norman walked into Fred Worsfold’s classroom in Edmonton.
She was 24 but barely an adult, a single mother of two children who came from a history of intergenerational trauma.
“I was desolate, uneducated and lost,” she told Global News. “I lacked life skills and I didn’t know how to live.”
Norman thought she had hit her life’s lowest point, so much so that she didn’t feel “worthy” enough to walk through a mall by herself. But she had two reasons to keep going.
She heard about a personal development program at Alberta Vocational College and took a chance. “It was really scary,” she continued.
“I was at a time in my life where to even talk to someone one-on-one was very difficult because I was illiterate and had very low self-esteem.”
WATCH: For the first time, Jackie Norman was able to thank her former teacher, Fred Worsfold, for giving her a second chance at life.
Worsfold ended up saving her life. Not only did he teach her the basics of reading, writing and communication, but he gave her something she didn’t think she could get in a classroom: self-confidence.
(Fred Worsfold (top row, first from the left) and Jackie Norman (top row, third from the left).
“I listened and I soaked up everything that he taught me, he had so much knowledge and energy and passion when I was in his class… he made you feel like you belonged,” she continued.
“There was a personal relationship that he gave to us as his students, and it felt like I was important and somebody cared.”
Jackie Norman in Fred Worsfold’s classroom.
Today, Norman is an Indigenous youth engagement worker with the Burnaby School District in B.C. She takes Worsfold’s lessons and tries to apply them in her own classrooms.
We all know teachers like this
In August, Global News asked Canadians to share stories about their favourite teachers; not only the people who were good at their jobs but the educators who went above and beyond for students inside and outside the classroom. For the first time in decades, Norman was able to thank Worsfold for giving her a second chance at life.
Worsfold, now 72, spent decades teaching adults in classrooms and even in a prison in Calgary. He now lives in a seniors’ home in Smiths Fall, Ont., a small town about an hour away from Ottawa.
A few years ago, Worsfold suffered a brain injury and lost his ability to read. But despite this, he still goes through binders of thank-you letters from his students that he’s received over the years.
Fred Worsfold with his sister Barb Smail in Smiths Falls, Ont.
When he got the opportunity to hear from one of them — Norman — he recognized her right away.
“She looks almost the same,” he told Global News. “This goes back to my memory of how great that was… it made my life.”
His sister, Barb Smail, told Global News that when Worsfold was in school himself, there were too many teachers who never spent time listening to students. During that time, he made the decision to become a teacher, allowing himself to know his students differently.
He recalled the first day of class, over the last few decades, where he would ask students in the class to speak first or ask him questions.
Advice for teachers
Worsfold said if he had advice for teachers today, it’s to not only ask students questions, but to be willing to listen. “Don’t just do all the talking.” He also valued the importance of volunteering, and he’d sometimes work for 12 hours a day just to make sure his students got the best education.
“It didn’t matter to me how much I got paid — the work mattered to me. If the students liked it or not, how can we fix it?”
Smail said when she would attend some of her brother’s classes, he was known as the “rebel” teacher. “He would dress in jeans, a shirt and cowboy boots,” she said. “Fred would bring motivational speakers into his class to help the students.”
Today, Norman keeps her own set of memories from her time with Worsfold, a scrapbook with photos and letters from her time under his wing. She has a Christmas card, school photos and even a recommendation letter he wrote for her. She is forever grateful.
“The significance of how important it is to be that genuine, down-to-earth person working with students… it can change a person’s life and it can make them want to live.”
— With files from Abigail Bimman of Ottawa