Montrealers mourn beloved teacher Joe Hackett, who helped students find their voices
MONTREAL -- He was that teacher everyone loved—that was what the outpouring on social media this week made clear.
Joe Hackett, a teacher at several Montreal schools over his career, made learning fun and nurtured his students’ creativity, said some of those students.
After his death this week in a traffic accident, they want it known just how much he achieved, school by school, kid by kid.
“He took the stuffiness out of the classroom,” one former student, Steve Spetsieris, told CTV.
“I was a student who kind of hid in the back and didn't want to use my voice, and he made me feel like I was capable of great things,” Spetsieris recalled.
“He gave me a voice and I felt, in his classroom, I was capable of more.”
Spetsieris had Hackett as a teacher at Lauren Hill Academy in 1995, when he was 16. It was because of him, he said, that he went on to become a teacher himself, and then vice-principal at Royal Vale School.
But other students with a wide variety of dreams said that Hackett did the same thing, enthusiastically helping them realize what they loved and figuring out a way to do it as adults.
“Reading and writing were things that I loved, because I was a pretty insular, introverted child. He really nurtured that aspect of my life,” said Helen Yee, who was about 15 when she had Hackett as a teacher at Rosemount High.
Today Yee is a novelist. And years after she graduated from high school, Mr. Hackett showed up to her very first book signing, she said.
He had already even read an advance copy of the book—and still cared as much as ever, paycheque or no.
“He marked up the margins of the book, circled pages, passages he liked, passages he didn't like, passages where he thought I wasn't writing as well as I could,” she said.
Hackett was born in New Jersey but came to study in Montreal, at Concordia, and soon became a teacher at various English schools.
He died on Tuesday at age 71 when, after a day of golfing southwest of Montreal in Saint-Anicet, he was crossing the street to the parking lot and was hit by a truck.
A coroner is now investigating his death.
Hackett had been retired for the last 15 years and he and his wife were planning their 50th wedding anniversary this December.
His friends, as well as his students, say he will be deeply missed. In fact, what made Hackett a great teacher is the same thing that made him a great friend, said Alan Smith.
“He could talk to the students as if they were adults, allow them to express their views, and not just impose his own views, if you want to call it that,” said Smith, at whose wedding Hackett was best man.
He had a way of democratizing his classroom and making everyone, no matter what clique they might be part of, feel welcome, said Spetsieris.
Hackett was a teacher with a passion for his subjects, whether English or history. But aside from the lesson plan, it was this democratic, open-minded approach to all his students that changed Spierseris’s own outlook so deeply, he said.
At 71, Hackett died far too young, Spietsieris added. After decades spent urging teenagers in the direction of their own interests, he had been enjoying doing the same after his retirement.
“It's not fair,” said Spietseris. “He was a very happy person, he had a lot of diverse interests, he enjoyed life.”
Those mourning him, however, say at least he can be remembered the way he deserved -- as a once-in-a-lifetime teacher who quietly changed hundreds, or even thousands, of Montrealers' lives.