I don’t normally break character on our blog, but this warranted something from the heart: Ihor Pelech, my Grade 9 English teacher, passed away.

I was deeply affected by this news because of how deeply Mr. Pelech affected and impacted me.

Mr. Pelech was the first teacher who “got” me

I remember the day I knew it. We were doing a unit on poetry and our assignment was to write an original poem in iambic pentameter for the next day.

For whatever reason, I wrote mine about Sylvester Stallone’s fall from important Hollywood actor to the joke he’d become in the early ’90s (the Tango & Cash years). And in what I later learned was the primary skill of a copywriter, I did a deep dive into the subject matter, found the nuggets of interest to support my position and crafted them into the asked-for format.

I was confident my poem would be unique among the submissions, but unsure how Mr. Pelech would react.

The next day, he gave everybody’s work back, but I didn’t get mine. Instead, he read mine aloud to the class and said (and I remember this like it was yesterday), “that’s how you write a poem.”

As I was leaving the class, he stopped me and said (again, I remember it like it was yesterday), “You have talent. Do something with it.”

“You have talent. Do something with it.”

He said it so matter-of-factly. So confidently.

For a ninth grade kid at a new school without many friends, it was everything. It gave me a purpose and a passion. And it was the first time it ever occurred to me that I could turn my hobby into something more than a hobby.

I started looking into careers for people who liked to write. At the time, I keyed in on journalism, which became my focus until I graduated university and life serendipitously threw me into copywriting.

Since then, Mr. Pelech’s words were sometimes all I had in moments of non-confidence as a writer and an entrepreneur. I believed them because I believed in him.

Mr. Pelech was an authority on language and he took it seriously

He staunchly encouraged self-expression, but insisted with equal staunchness that we expressed ourselves well.

  • When he taught the rules of grammar, he explained why the rules were important to readers and how they made writing better.
  • When he taught poetic meters, he explained the importance of cadence to writing in general, and how to manipulate language to fit a beat.
  • And when he and I spoke about rap music, he expressed an appreciation for the linguistic art of it, despite the colourful language. This was rare for teachers at that time, and probably very rare for 40-something Ukrainian-Canadian men in 1990.

Public education needs more Mr. Pelechs

I hope every student gets to be inspired, motivated, believed in and fuelled by a teacher like I was by Mr. Pelech. Goodbye, sir. And thank you.

Dan Yurman, St. Andrews Junior High, Class of 1991