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25 March 2018 | Professionally Speaking In this profile, notable Canadians honour the teachers who have made a difference in their lives and have successfully embraced the College's Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, which are care, respect, trust and integrity. Gerry Dee (right) shares a laugh with former St. Gabriel Catholic School teacher Joseph Onorati at the comedian's home in Toronto, Ont. as a comedian would," Onorati laughs. "But I felt pride as a teacher, of a student's success. And that doesn't have to mean economic success; hearing that they're happy, doing something that makes them feel fulfilled, and that they're caring and good citizens," explains Onorati. "I'm proud of Gerry, as I am of all my students. But, I think that night created even more of a bond." Dee admits that it was hard for him to pick a favourite teacher because he had so many great ones, both at St. Gabriel and then at De La Salle College, where he went to high school in Toronto. He con- siders himself fortunate to have attended two schools that he absolutely loved. Still, among those great teachers, Joe Onorati was, and still remains, special to the TV star. "Joe was someone who let me joke around but also knew when to put an end to it," Dee says. "He never mailed it in. Once you got into class, it was all busi- ness. He was strict, which I appreciated even as a 12- or 13-year-old; I understood why it was important. We [students] got better, we got smarter, we learned and he prepared us for high school, which really is the most important thing. "I remember always enjoying my classes with Joe. Strict at times, funny at times, always got the job done. That, to me, is the best teacher." PS "Gerry was a fast learner," Onorati says. "He used to be the first to finish assign- ments, and as often is the case, once you finish your work, you have a tendency to fool around. That is probably why I had to have that chat. "Having said that, he had done the work, so maybe it was up to me to give him extra, or something more stimulating." Nevertheless, Onorati's teaching meth- ods clearly provided plenty of stimulation for Dee, in many ways and in many forms. Neither Dee nor Onorati knew it at the time but even back then Dee was amass- ing information that would help him both as a teacher, and subsequently as a comic actor who plays a teacher. As time passed, Onorati became aware that his former student had gone into educa- tion. Then, just as Dee was making his big switch into comedy, their paths crossed at a school athletics event. Unbeknownst to Onorati, Dee was the guest speaker. The two had a quick exchange before Dee went on stage. "Gerry kind of roasted me merci- lessly; he talked about my discipline style, And through all of that, Onorati still remembers Dee clearly, and for a par- ticularly special reason. "Gerry was in my very first class as a teacher; I don't know if he's aware of that. I even remember where he used to sit — he was very social, as you can imagine," says Onorati, who admits that what he lacked in experience, he made up with enthusiasm. "I think I was humble enough and caring enough for them to know that I wanted them to learn." Dee recalls being a "pretty good student" but Onorati suggests Dee is selling himself short, saying, "Believe me, Gerry was a very, very good student." In fact, he was named valedictorian of his Grade 8 class, something the comedian attributes more to his speaking skills than his academic prowess. Onorati, however, insists the teenager had a fine combination of both. "Gerry wanted to do well," his former teacher says. "He was extremely neat — I remember that about him — and his books were always so well organized. He used to underline things as he did them." Having done quite a bit of coaching in those days, he also remembers Dee as a good athlete with great all-around skills. Dee fully acknowledges, though, that whether he was in the classroom, on the playground or in the gym, he didn't always know when to settle down. And it was for this reason, he remembers, that Onorati had to have a serious chat with him about being less disruptive. This memory rings a bell with Onorati — he had a version of that conversation with a number of students throughout his career. J O E W A S S O M E O N E W H O L E T M E J O K E A R O U N D B U T K N E W W H E N T O P U T A N E N D T O I T . . . O N C E Y O U G O T T O C L A S S , I T W A S A L L B U S I N E S S.

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