Expanded horizons

November 19, 2015

Gord Doctorow didn't see retirement as a chance to leave the classroom and teaching, rather it was an opportunity to bring the classroom with him on his retirement journey.

Rather than simply retiring after teaching high school in Scarborough with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for 26 years, Gord decided in 2002 he was ready for the next phase of his career.

Two years before making the decision to retire from the TDSB, he started working with Nova Southeastern University in Florida, coaching students through the doctorate process. He holds a doctorate of education himself, as well as a Masters in computer science and mathematics. From his home in Toronto, he connected with his students, online or over the phone, with a face-to-face meeting about once a year.

"Working with the doctorate students for a couple of years before I retired from teaching high school full-time gave me the chance to know that this is something that I can do, and that I wanted to do when I retired," he said. "It really helped with the transition from working full-time to retirement."

The university approached him and asked if he would be interested in teaching online mathematics courses. He started by teaching high school teachers, and then developed two graduate-level courses, linear algebra and abstract algebra, aimed at those who teach mathematics in colleges.

"The university has online platforms that allow me to connect with my students for two hours every week. They can see my Power Point presentation, they can hear my voice, they can ask me questions or text me," he says. "As long as I have WiFi, I can teach my courses."

He and his wife, Roz, are also both passionate travelers, as well as educators. The flexibility of teaching online courses has allowed Gord to combine the two. He's taught classes from China, from the Grand Canyon and from California. "Sometimes the only challenge is getting the time zones straight between me and my students, because they're all over North America too."

Gord's new role also immersed him back into a world he has long loved – mathematics.

"I love the math. There are a lot of new developments in mathematics, whole new areas, cryptography and string theory for example, that are just being investigated and I'm getting to learn about them and am teaching them to myself, so that I can continue to pass along the knowledge to my students.

"Mathematics is a highly creative and imaginative field," he said. "And to be a good teacher, you have to be a learner yourself. Otherwise math just becomes a routine exercise and no one, teacher or student, enjoys it."

Three facts about Gord:
  1. He was born in Azerbaijan, and his younger sister was born in a refugee camp. After WWII ended, his family moved to Toronto and it has been his home base ever since.
  2. He got his first tattoo, a nod to artist MC Escher, in his first year of retirement.
  3. He and his wife, Roz, have two sons. Neil started a school for elite athletes and Cory is an award-winning science fiction writer.