A king among teachers: Honouring a legend
By Paul Hogendoorn
Mr. Prince is retiring. After teaching over 12,000 students in 32 years, Rene Prince may have taught his last class.
“Retiring,” however, is not the right word. He was a casualty of DeVry’s demise in Toronto. When that operation was taken over by RCC, Mr. Prince was simply “laid off’. (It seems an inappropriate way to end a career that positively affected so many people, but it’s through no fault of RCC).
As a former student of his, I feel compelled to say that “teaching” may not be the right word to describe his craft. Equipping, challenging, motivating, influencing, inspiring, and yes, even entertaining, are perhaps better descriptions of what Mr. Prince does, or did, for that matter.
If you were lucky enough to be “taught” by Mr. Prince (I had the good fortune of having him for two terms at DeVry), you didn’t simply learn about electronics; you learned that passive circuits were anything but boring; that active circuits were filled with potential; that all problems can be solved by first finding the right way to look at them; and that learning – even seemingly boring things – can be a lot of fun. You also learned that enjoying what you do everyday is more important than the money you make doing it.
Contrary to the old joke, “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach”, really good technical teachers can usually choose from a variety of career options, most of which would pay far more than teaching. This is most certainly true of Mr. Prince, of whom according to school legend, was once taken out of the classroom, escorted into a limousine by a pair of MPs, and then whisked away to a northern Canadian radar station that required the troubleshooting expertise that only he could provide.
The skills that he taught for troubleshooting have stayed with me to this day – find the right point from which to look at the problem, reduce all the elements to their simplest form, then solve the problem. In short, “Keep it simple, stupid.” These basic skills that he drilled into us are skills that I use to this day, although now mostly for non-technical problems. (These same skills work for problems with customers, staff and even teenagers at home.)
Teachers like Mr. Prince teach with a contagious passion. Teaching with this kind of passion can be the difference between simply equipping students for a good job, and setting them on a path for a fulfilling and rewarding career. Learning skills and gaining a technical diploma should be more than a means to an end; it should also be a satisfying and fulfilling experience. The same can be true in the working world – the rewards of working should be far more than just a pay cheque. After all, most people invest 40 hours of their week for 40 years of their life into their jobs.
It was clear that Mr. Prince enjoyed every day that he spent teaching, and that most of his students, based on my experience, enjoyed every day they spent learning, thanks to him. Most graduating students come to the workplace with the appropriate skills and aptitude. Students that made it through his classes also joined the workforce with the right attitude. While skills and aptitude can determine how well you can do a job, attitude determines how much you will enjoy it.
Electronics, like many technical subjects, can sometimes be boring. (I snoozed through electronics in high school, and got the bad marks to prove it.) Most of us that survived our technical education with any level of interest still in tact likely did so because of at least one teacher that we had along the way; a teacher that not only knew their subject matter very well, but enjoyed teaching it even more. Writing this column is my way of thanking one teacher that taught with that type of contagious passion – Mr. Prince, a king among teachers.
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, a London-based electronic manufacturing company. He is also currently a member of the London Regional Manufacturing Council. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about the LRMC, visit www.manufacturinglondon.com.