It is telling that this is the top quote about Howe Sound Secondary music teacher Fran Booth on the website, Rate My Teachers:
“Hands down the best teacher I’ve ever had. Understands the way students work better than anyone else and that school is not always the most important thing going on in life.”
There are other similar comments about the 24-year teaching veteran.
It is no surprise then that Booth’s overall rating on the site is 4.84 out of 5.
The Chief sat down with Booth at The Ledge for a chat about her teaching philosophy, her love of music and coming back from her head injury.
The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: One of the reviews of you on Rate My Teachers says that you understand music isn’t all that is going on for students, can you speak to that?
A: These music courses, like jazz band, take place outside the school timetable, but students sometimes want to join volleyball or basketball and they say that maybe they can’t join because they are in jazz band. No, jazz lasts all year long. Volleyball is going to be six or eight weeks, please go and have the volleyball experience. This is your time in life to find out what your passion is and what you love. You have to do those things.
Q: What is your teaching philosophy?
A:. My philosophy is educator first, so teaching kids to be wonderful human beings — music is just the medium to get that done. I also have a philosophy about building community in the classroom so that students have a safe place where they want to be and are taking care of each other, taking care of the community. Then they are going to be better citizens.
Q: Who was the person for you growing up who sparked your passion?
A: My band teacher. He was very traditional in his way of teaching, but he really pushed me to go on to be a better musician and person. Also, a French teacher I had inspired me. He was also a real traditionalist; you could not get caught speaking English in that class. I worked at McDonald’s as a teenager and he would come to my line up and order in French and I would have to answer in French. He raised the expectations of me and I had to rise to it or I would be disappointing him and I didn’t want to do that.
Q: What is your first memory of music?
A: That is easy. I am the last of four children. I have a sister who is 15 years older than me and she loved music. She played piano, so I grew up listening to her practice and practice and practice. I started taking lessons at four years old. Eventually, I joined the band program at school and went on from there. I went from piano to saxophone then on to drums and flute and trumpet. Once you get one going you want to learn them all.
Music is my passion. From Grade 9, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. I started teaching saxophone in Grade 10.
Q: You take your music students on a lot of trips where they perform. Do any in particular stand out?
A: We have travelled as close as Vancouver and as far as New York and Hawaii and places in between.
They are all wonderful experiences. One that stands out was to Hawaii. We got stuck in Hawaii in 2007, I think, when Harmony Airlines halted all flights. We had no flight home. There were 30 of us that were supposed to be flying home on the same plane. I managed to get 18, with chaperones of course, onto the flight. I stayed behind with the 11 remaining students. We were in the airport for 18 hours.
I knew we would all be fine, but it was the uncertainty of it all. In the end it was a great life lesson. It was good for them to see us all take care of each other.
Q: Do you think as a society we value music enough?
A: I don’t think so. Here we are in a café and there is music playing in the background. It is around us all the time. It is a huge part of our culture that we don’t necessarily nurture as much as we could, but that isn’t new. That was the same in the 70s and 80s. But it prevails. We just don’t seem to appreciate it. It is the same with art and drama.
Q: What is your music playlist like on your phone?
A: These days, my daughter, who is eight years old, gets ahold of my phone. She is a dancer and so the songs I tend to download and purchase are those that she is dancing to or loving. The two most played artists on my phone right now are probably Ed Sheeran and Pink. But I like all music.
Q: You can preserve your privacy, of course, but tell us a bit about your family.
A: My direct family is my husband and my daughter. My husband also works for the school district, as a carpenter. Beyond that, my parents are still with us — they are in their 80s and live in North Van — they are super supportive and will be up for our annual Winter Gala concert (held Dec. 14). My siblings are all over the Lower Mainland and are married with their own kids. I have been really lucky in life to have a really supportive family.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: North Van. I have been in Squamish for 24 years.
Q: Then you have seen much change in this town?
A: I have. I was driving here and as I got to the corner at Squamish Elementary, I was trying to turn right and there was lots of traffic and I suddenly had a flashback of the first few years when I was teaching here and there were no lights there. It was just a stop sign. Turning left or right was no problem. No one was ever coming the other way!
Q: You had a head injury in 2014, while playing soccer, you said. How are you feeling now?
A: It took me three years to get over that. This is the first year where I finally feel like me again. I finally have the energy to get through the day.
For a long time I couldn’t go running. Being able to run again is great. I am not fast, but it is stress release. I ran a half marathon two weeks ago in Disneyland. In fact, I did a triple: a five kilometre run on one day, a 10k race on the second day and a half marathon on the third day. I didn’t think I could do it, but it was a bucket list thing for me. It is good to set goals and aim for something — that is what I tell my students they should do too. It felt so good.
I was grinning ear to ear as I came up to the finish line of the half marathon.
I just felt great.