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Alum Dennis Donohoe has Woodsworth to thank for 30-year career in teaching

February 29, 2024
Image of Dennis Donohoe at a ski hill

After struggling with his own academics for years, Woodsworth alum Dennis Donohoe enjoyed a 30-year career as an elementary and secondary school teacher — and he has Woodsworth College to thank for it.

Donohoe is one of many, in the 50 years since the college was established, who entered Woodsworth as a mature student with no high school diploma.

“The academic qualifications are what enabled me to enter the teaching profession,” says Donohoe, who earned his bachelor of arts in 1975 and his bachelor of education in 1979. “Various professors were supportive of my goals and gave me good advice on how to reach them.”

Growing up, Donohoe had a turbulent relationship with his studies. Although education eventually became an important part of his life, it didn’t come easily to him in his early years. Donohoe grew up in a foster home, raised by a single parent with little education.

“My formative years did not include much in the way of cultural or worldly experiences. This meant by the time I entered high school I was not only immature age-wise, but also in a worldly sense.”

In high school, Donohoe struggled. He felt keenly the disadvantages of not coming from a stable home and his grades suffered. Eventually, his school encouraged him to drop out.

After leaving high school, Donohoe worked in various jobs for 10 years. He traveled abroad, which he says contributed to his personal growth and gave him the experience and knowledge to better understand the world.

While working in the recreation department of a Toronto hospital, Donohoe had a formative conversation with a woman who encouraged him to go back to school and pursue his goal of working with children and teaching elementary school students.

“I always thought that, based on my life experience, I would be able to understand and help others who also didn’t have the typical background of many students,” he says.

Donohoe saw a newspaper ad from the University of Toronto highlighting pre-university courses. A person obtaining a B+ average or better could apply to the university to enter the bachelor of arts program conditionally.

Donohoe enrolled and began his higher education journey. He went on to earn two bachelor's degrees at U of T, a master's degree in educational administration at Brock University and several Ministry of Education specialty certificates. Education became tantamount to Donohoe’s personal identity.

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher as I went through the education system as a student and realized many teachers didn’t understand people like me who didn’t come from a middle- or upper-class background,” Donohoe says.

Donohoe is retired now, and spends his time writing, biking, skiing and volunteering at local schools. In 2021, he published a book for primary students called HOPE.

“I had mixed emotions about retiring,” he says. “In some ways it was difficult to retire because I really enjoyed teaching. But on the other hand, I wanted more personal time to pursue other interests.”

As Woodsworth College celebrates its 50th anniversary, Donohoe reflects on everything his education there enabled, as well as his interactions with professors who helped him view life through their objective eyes.

“Needless to say, I have always been grateful for the opportunity Woodsworth provided to me,” Donohoe says.

This story was originally published on the A&S website here.

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