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Retired Holy Trinity teacher reflects on memorable teaching moments

Vince O'Brien taught at Holy Trinity High School in Bradford for 20 years, before retiring this past June
Vince O'Brien. Melanie Pileggi for BradfordToday

High school is a period in our lives where we seem to need the most guidance. 

A teacher who leads allows their students to figure themselves out organically and truthfully, like Vince O’Brien– one of Holy Trinity’s retired high school English teachers.

O’Brien had humble beginnings, without any real interest in being a teacher but found himself in grade 13 with interests in the arts: English, visual, radio, and psychology. 

His interest in psychology sparked interest in human behaviours, which is why his brother told him he’d “make a good teacher.”

This got O’Brien thinking about a possible career for himself.

O’Brien applied to York University, in hopes of pursuing his new-found interest, and began to volunteer once a week at an elementary school. When York did not accept him, he applied to Trent University for concurrent education -- and this was the beginning of his new found career path. 

English was O’Brien’s favourite subject in high school. He excelled in humanities and English, and decided to make English his major teachable and history his minor teachable. 

O’Brien started teaching with the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 1989, then 10 years later,made his way to the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board, where he taught at Bradford’s Holy Trinity High School.  He just retired this past June. 

Some of O’Brien’s most memorable teaching moments come from his personal narrative assignments, called, ‘Turning Points Essays’ which he assigned, for 19 years straight, to his grade 12 classes. These works were narrowed down and submitted competitively for ranking each year to the Learning Partnership in Toronto, who would host the competitions and select a winner, followed by an award presentation and dinner. 

“I loved teaching and reading the work,” O’Brien said. He recalled one specific first place winner of the essay that was memorable to him. 

This student was asked by the Learning Partnership to read their work at an awards dinner, which consisted of about 500 established professionals. The piece was about mental health, and the student was a little nervous in front of the large crowd. After they spoke, everyone in the audience was overcome with emotion, which is a moment O’Brien says he will never forget. 

O’Brien has always been an inspirational figure to his students.  He always wanted to have a positive impact on those he taught, and catered his teaching mechanisms by refining methods to get through to students more effectively.

Before embarking into post-secondary endeavours, O’Brien thinks it’s important to teach young students to: “Always strive for full potential, and give yourself a break to allow time to find yourself.” The transition from high school to university can make students feel unsure, so he tells them to “Advocate for yourself, speak up, find help, take initiative, put in the time.” These teachings are what O’Brien says he tries to get through to as many students as he possibly can.

The aspects of teaching that are most appealing  to O’Brien are the personal connections he gets to make. Seeing the wide range of talents and skills in the classroom give teachers a firsthand look at the diversity in educational surroundings and help to further these relationships.

Growing up, O’Brien had an inspirational educational figure in his life, his high school English teacher. This teacher taught him communication and arts in his younger high school days, and was a mentor for him. 

O’Brien admired his teaching style and philosophy, remembering his teaching methods as engaging, and a strong reason why English became one of his favourite subjects. His teacher also brought humour into the classroom, and was imaginative, telling creative stories to students which always kept their attention. 

The teaching philosophy that O’Brien believes in is: always be encouraging and show positive reinforcement.  

Students need to persevere through subjects they struggle to understand, and need a teacher to guide and push them toward success. O’Brien said  he “Hates seeing wasted talent,”, students not using or working their aptitude, and strongly encourages and helps them further develop their talents if they sometimes are unable to get there on their own. 

Adjectives O’Brien would use to describe his presence in the classroom would be: Fair, humourous, encouraging, and trusting. 

Advice from O’Brien would simply be to: “Have empathy, be kind to others because we never know what people are going through, or have gone through. Be considerate, be open minded.” 

Throughout the month of January, BradfordToday will be featuring teachers in the community who stand out and make a difference in the lives of their students. 

Do you know an inspirational teacher that should be featured? Send an email to