Long-time Dufferin History teacher retiring this week

June 22, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

Dufferin history teacher Neil Orford will retire at the end of the school year, ending a 30-year career that’s seen him win several teaching awards and creating the innovative Digital Historian Project (DHP).

He began his career back in 1987, teaching at Orangeville District Secondary School (ODSS) for 10 years before spending two decades at Centre Dufferin District High School (CDDHS).

Throughout his career, Mr. Orford has won several provincial and national awards, including; the Governor General’s Award for History Teaching, Ontario Premier’s Award for History Teaching Excellence, and the Government of Canada Award for History Teaching, along with many more accolades.

He spearheaded the creation of Upper Grand District School Board’s DHP, which began in 2015. The program, which is project-based learning, provides students with a way to incorporate math and history into an academic program, studying at Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA), conducting archival research and collecting data on local veterans. The program also sees the class visit the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy, France.

In an interview with the Citizen, Mr. Orford said he’s always loved history, and has had a passion for it since a “really young age,” his favourite aspect being the characters and historical figures. “The stories that come from them are things that have always captured my attention.”

He mentioned that he wants his students to develop a whole new appreciation for historical narration. “The key is not the answer, the key is the question.”

He explained that he wanted to create the DHP because of a lack of information covering local history, not just in Dufferin County, but also in other areas. “I knew that the work I was doing anyways around veterans, and these remarkable stories on Dufferin veterans… it was a real source of richer stories here.” He added that the program is a way of accessing those stories and “getting kids to see them through a new lens, a 21st century lens.”

Mr. Orford describes local history subjects as ideally “far more hands-on, ones that kids can sink their teeth into, and really get a good sense of who they are because of where they are,” and more relatable and tangible, whereas national and international history and stories are based more around concepts and ideas.

At the beginning of the year, the DHP was singled out by Ontario’s Ministry of Education as an exemplary model of 21st century learning, which Mr. Orford says he feels great about. “The program’s one thing, but I feel very proud of the work that the kids do in the program, that makes that recognition so worthy.”

He says he’s most proud of his students, the work they’ve done, and those who come back to visit and chat, and they have a “gem” with DCMA, the staff, and experts. “For me, working with them over all these years has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career.”

His last official day of class was Tuesday. Mr. Orford says he felt a little blue, but added he’s very lucky and blessed through his career.

“Certainly it’s a very reflective time. I had the joy over the last couple months to reconnect with a lot of kids who are now adults. You think of a lot of really good times and challenges…I couldn’t have asked for a better career or a better place to have it.”

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.