The night of January 3, Joe Bower, a teacher from Alberta, Canada, died of a sudden heart attack, a few days after his 37th birthday.
Too early, inexplicably, tragically. Still, the light and inspiration Joe radiated will far outlast him. His death is a tragedy for the family, friends, students and colleges who were close to him. But it also moved many people to express their deep mourning for this special person – a person who worked to not only create better schools but also a better world. Joes work, writings and his blog demonstrated his courage in single-handedly taking on the system and challenging the status quo. It also inspired many teachers around the world.
Members of this Chair‘s work, his fellow speakers and other participants in a conference in Barcelona in December 2014 had known Joe for only a few days. But we all immediately knew what a jewel was amongst us. His talk was so wonderfully down to earth and practical in application. In fact, it was less a speech and more of a conversation with the audience who he so naturally engaged with his logic and thinking processes – and led to joint conclusions. It was a real joy to watch him capturing attention, empathising with his audience and directing this academic forum as if it were a high-school class session! Clearly, here was a high-calibre pedagogue, a real master.
But this alone does not make a great teacher. Love and respect for children, compassion for their personal struggles and achievements, for their pain and joy – these were the qualities which made him great. As Cathy Davidson wrote, he set the bar for humanity and for our profession as educators sky high.
Joe’s human qualities, his profound honesty and his modesty are revealed by little details. He told the conference that he was not born a good teacher; in fact, he had started out a terrible teacher! On being asked why it was so difficult to get in contact with him, he confessed that when he received the invitation to come to Barcelona as a keynote speaker, he thought that was a (bad) joke and he had deleted the letter! And after all, how he could just leave his 126 students and go to Barcelona?