A Retired Educator Has Written
A Book That Has Really Connected With Readers
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by John Liviero
David Garlick’s memoir, The Principal Chronicles, is more than the story of his years as a Windsor secondary school principal.
In the book’s introduction, he refers to it as “a semi-non-fictional memoir…” The “semi” aspect comes in because David has included a few fictional pieces. The rest of the book spans his own life from the time he began school, as a five-year-old entering kindergarten to his retirement as a high school principal.
The stories in the book are by turns humourous, engrossing, surprising, and even startling, at times. Each chapter has a unique illustration provided by David’s niece Lindsay Chasten.
Born and raised in Windsor, David attended Prince of Wales elementary school and John L. Forster high school. As a kid, David entertained the idea of becoming a dentist when he grew up. That did not last long and for a while, he didn’t know what path he might take. It was OK, though—he was just a kid.
“I had some wonderful teachers at Forster,” David recalls in a conversation with Windsor Life Magazine. “There was Donna Lanktree in the library. She took a suggestion I made once about adding a book to the collection. I’m sure she doesn’t remember the incident but it was a defining moment in my life…”
David even drew inspiration from a less-than-stellar history teacher who rapped a yardstick loudly on a desk as a method of communication when the class got out of control. After one instance of desk-rapping occurred on David’s desk, striking a red pen and causing it to explode all over his shirt, David came away from the experience thinking: “I could do this better than you.” He notes in the book “I was thirteen” when this realization occurred.
By the end of his high school years, David understood that people get out of experiences what they put into them.
“I really enjoyed high school,” he recalls. “I wasn’t the best student, but I was involved in band and drama. By the time I finished, I knew I wanted to come back and teach in high school.”
David attended teacher’s college at Queen’s University in Kingston.
“This is how old I am: I went to teachers’ college at a time when film projectors were a “thing,” he remembers. “It was a time long before VCRs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays!”
He completed two rounds of practice teaching in Ottawa, and two in Oshawa.
Much as school and teaching are portrayed in popular culture as being somehow not a part of the “real world”—the fallacy propagated by the saying “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” from George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 stage play Man and Superman—David’s stories prove that notion untrue.
For instance, before embarking on his second round of practice teaching, in Ottawa, the music teacher at the school where he was assigned had been fired after being caught in a “rather compromising situation with one of his students in a practice room.” Before David finished his stint at the school, he was approached by an attractive, nineteen-year-old female student who said: “A few of us are going out this evening to Jimmy’s Piano Lounge, and we’re wondering if you’d like to join us. If you don’t know where it is, I’d be happy to drive you.”
David had the wherewithal to decline the invitation.
After receiving his teaching certification, David returned to Windsor and worked for the next thirty years, as a teacher, vice principal and principal, at Massey, Herman, Assumption, Directions, W.D. Lowe, Western, Forster, and Walkerville, from which he retired.
The Principal Diaries was one of the positive things to come out of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“A lot of what is in the book came from notes I made over the years,” David explains. “Early on in my VP career, I came home at the end of the day and quickly jotted down a few of the things that had happened.” He laughs. “My wife got tired of hearing the stories, so I wrote them down. By retirement I had collected two to three hundred of them. When COVID began, I looked through them and found that most were funny, positive experiences. That’s where the book came from.”
The Principal Diaries is David’s first book, so he had to develop a writing process for himself as he went along.
“Once I realized the structure the book would take—following me from before school into retirement—I then went through my memories and bare bone incidents and put them in the correct category: each era of life,” he says.
As he went, David had a few trusted readers on whom he relied, sending them pieces of the book about which they shared their thoughts and feedback.
“I thank my beta readers in the beginning of the book,” he says. “Nobody got the entire book until it was ready to be published.”
The memoir is augmented by a few pieces of fiction, that build upon David’s love and knowledge of the area.
“The Enid Wakely story,” he says, about one fictional piece, “took close to thirty years to write. I wrote a draft of it when I taught at Herman and read it to my class in the late 1980s. More recently, I asked my sister-in-law to read it and she thought it was good, but offered a few ideas on how to improve it.”
The book has been well-received throughout Essex County.
“Everyone who has read it so far, has enjoyed it,” David notes. “One local bookshop told me it was their best-selling
David has begun work on a second book. At this point, he is unsure what form it will take. To stay on top of developments, check for updates at dsgarlick.ca. Visit voiced.ca/project/the-principal-chronicles/ to hear David reading portions of the book.