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Connecting with kids at Kumon

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Photos courtesy Caren Cormier

By Caren Cormier
I always wanted to be a teacher, but when I was ready to start my career, the circumstances weren’t right and I went into a different industry. Eventually, however, the pull of education grew strong enough that I became a Kumon Math & Reading Centres franchisee in Vaughan, Ont. It was the perfect opportunity for me then and still is now, more than nine years later.

An affinity for education
I was born in Toronto and grew up in Guildwood Village, which was a new, up and coming neighbourhood at the time, in the eastern edge of the city. I was the second-youngest of four children, with two older sisters and one younger brother. Our grandparents lived a 10-minute walk away and our aunt was a backyard neighbour.

Our parents had emigrated from Germany to Canada in the early 1950s. At the time, they already had their first child and my mother was pregnant with her second. The landlords at many apartment buildings in Toronto back then weren’t willing to rent units out to people with children, so at first, my parents had to move into an apartment attached to a mechanic’s garage. It was kind of a dump, but they fixed it up and made it their home. That was their beginning here.

They moved into a very small house east of Oshawa, Ont., before settling into a brand new house in Guildwood. Soon afterwards, my aunt and grandparents moved to the same area, as well.

When my parents first arrived in Canada, my dad—who had graduated from university in Germany—took on a few jobs, like working as an usher at a movie theatre, which helped him learn English. He wrote his thesis and began a government job as a professional engineer for a fire marshal’s office in western Toronto, where he worked to ensure hospitals were safe from fires. My mom stayed at home to raise us. We only had one car, so she didn’t drive until much later. You didn’t see a lot of women driving back in those days.

I had a great childhood in Guildwood. We could walk everywhere, so it didn’t matter that our mom couldn’t drive us around.
I enjoyed swimming and skating and got into gymnastics at our elementary school after the principal started a club.

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My franchise’s location in Vaughan, Ont., doubled in size after the first three years.

The school was just a two-minute walk from home and then high school was 20 minutes away. It was a very community-oriented environment, so the kids in my classes were the same kids I saw in my extracurricular activities.

I excelled in school, but somehow never realized it until my parents returned home from a parent-teacher interview one day and told me I was number one in my class. I was so surprised! That said, I’d always enjoyed a lot of subjects at school, especially math, science and English. I just loved learning about everything, which incited my desire to be a teacher when 
I grew up.

Training without teaching
I quickly became very independent. When
I started driving at 16, I took on tasks like grocery shopping and taking my mother places she didn’t feel comfortable driving herself. I had a lot of responsibility at a young age.

I went to the University of Toronto
(U of T) for a few years with the intention of becoming a teacher, but at the time, attendance at schools was dropping and teachers were being let go. There used to be a lot of families with four or more children, but demographics changed with the advent of birth control pills, so there were fewer students in need of teachers.

I got a summer job with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and never went back to university. I stayed with the bank for 28 years, during which time I got married and had my daughter, Carina.

I still had a strong desire to become a teacher, though, and during my time with the bank, I did training, program development, process review and project management. I learned a lot through that journey and certainly got to do a lot of teaching within the context of my profession.

Whenever I had the opportunity to meet and play with children, I realized I had a natural gift for relating to them very easily. I found kids were drawn to me—even those who were complete strangers would smile and wave at me—and I was drawn to them, as well. I didn’t know what it was, but
I ‘got’ them and they ‘got’ me.

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