People of Georgian: Student-turned-professor discovers love of teaching

It’s World Teachers’ Day on Thursday, Oct. 5. We spoke with Keith Connell, a professor in two different Georgian academic areas, as well as a two-time alumnus, about how he became a teacher and his experiences working with students.

People of Georgian: Meet Keith Connell

When I was sixteen, I wasn’t the world’s greatest student.

I frustrated my English teacher so badly that one time he looked at me and said, in front of the entire class, “You’re going to be nothing but a garbage man.”

My jaw dropped.

That churned and churned inside me, and I worked really hard after that. At the end of the semester, I walked into his office and slammed my report card down and said, “See this? I’m going to be more than a garbage man.”

He looked me right in the eyes and said, “I knew that all along.” I’ve never forgotten that.

A person wearing a suit and tie sits in a chair and smiles.
Keith is a professor at Georgian and two-time alumnus.

‘Georgian is my home’

I grew up and worked in the corporate world for 30 years – but I was never happy.

When I got hired at Georgian, it was the first time I actually felt a positive connection to my management team and colleagues. Georgian is my home.

I started at the college as a student, including studying elbow to elbow with my son, Jesse. I was even allowed to present him with his credential when he graduated. I get goosebumps just talking about it.

Two people wearing blue convocation robes stand next to each other in front of a backdrop reading "Georgian College.
Keith, right, took a Georgian program with his son, Jesse.

But I never expected to wind up teaching. I recorded videos to play in class because I couldn’t get up in front of a group of people and talk for 10 minutes.

My faculty and wife were very encouraging though, and eventually a position became available – with a catch: the course started the following day. I had to create a syllabus, class plan and course material as it was going.

Two people take a selfie in a room with rows of red chairs behind them.
Keith and his wife, Suzanne, also studied at Georgian at the same time.

Awful experience or wonderful opportunity?

In hindsight, although it seemed like an awful experience, it was a wonderful opportunity. It was truly trial by fire, but it made me who I am today. Nothing scares me now.

As I taught more and more, I discovered I love to teach and engage with students.

When I start new courses, the first thing I tell my students is there are no titles in my classroom. Do not call me “professor.” Do not call me anything but Keith because I am going to learn just as much from you as you’re going to learn from me.

And I’ve had some amazing moments with students.

One time, an international student walked into class sobbing because it was her first birthday away from home and she had been on the phone all night with her mother. Her friends surprised her in class with cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’

The experience changed me and made me curious about the resilience of international students. What makes them want to travel to Canada away from their families, learn new ways of life, and stay here through graduation? I’m now studying the international student experience and their persistence for my PhD.

A person stands at the front of a classroom and teaches.
Keith is studying the international student experience for his PhD.

‘I sent my old English teacher a thank you card’

Funnily enough, when I was hired at Georgian, I sent my old English teacher a thank you card.

In the end, my experience with him really made me want to teach. If I can influence one student’s academic career like he influenced mine, what a career that would be.

Keith Connell, a professor in Georgian’s Computer Studies and Design and Visual Arts departments. He is also a graduate of two Georgian programs, each class of 2018: Computer Programming and Advertising and Marketing Communications.

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