Notre Dame teacher marks 50-year career

Alan Charlton to walk 20 km to fundraise for new school bus

Some might consider 50 years of teaching teenagers enough of a contribution.

But Alan Charlton wants to mark both his 80th birthday and a half century as a teacher at Notre Dame Regional Secondary School by walking 20 kilometres along the seawall March 3 to help raise money for a new school bus.

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“The school community has become my community. It’s become my family to a large extent,” Charlton said. “And I just felt that I wanted to show my appreciation of what that’s meant for me.”

The native of Poole, England wanted to be a veterinarian at age 15. At 16, he wanted to leave school to become a drama critic for the local newspaper.

But teachers told his parents at career night their son should stay in school, secure a scholarship, earn an English degree at Oxford, and then become a drama critic. The Charltons complied.

At the end of his time at Oxford, Charlton told career counsellors he wanted to be a drama critic.

“They said, ‘You’re not going to get a job on a newspaper. If you wanted to do that you should have left school at 16 and got a job,’” Charlton said. “I always use that example of irony in my English class.”

The newly converted Catholic decided to become a priest.

“In England, they had a very sensible rule that you couldn’t enter the seminary until you’d been a Catholic for three years,” he said.

So he set sail for Canada and entered a seminary.

“And then I realized God didn’t know a good thing when he had it,” Charlton said with a laugh. “He didn’t want me to be a priest.”

Charlton initially taught at a Catholic elementary school in West Vancouver. He didn’t require a teaching certificate because the provincial government didn’t fund independent schools at the time. It was 1960 and he earned $2,300 a year.

When he moved to Notre Dame Catholic secondary school in Hastings-Sunrise, his salary doubled and his love of teaching multiplied.

“I just like kids,” said Charlton who teaches English 11 and film studies. “I’ve got a passion for what I teach and I want to share that with them… Kids roll their eyes and say ‘whatever,’ but occasionally, the flame gets ignited.”

It’s not just the kids who’ve kept Charlton at Notre Dame, but also his colleagues.

“Who try to live their faith,” he said. “If you’re ever in any trouble, they’re lining up to help you, and that’s been the case for 50 years.”

Sixteen employees, or one-third of Notre Dame’s staff were once Charlton’s pupils. They include vice-principal George Oswald — who’s retiring this year.

Charlton has also taught generations of families, including at least one grandmother and granddaughter.

“I go to a lot of weddings and, unfortunately, to a lot of funerals,” he said. “It’s all part of being in a family, and I don’t have a family over here, at all, nobody, so I would be a very lonely person were it not for that.”

He teaches half time now, marking in the daytime so he can entertain and see films and plays at night.

Charlton has written film and theatre reviews for the B.C. Catholic since 1962 and wrote for the Courier in the 1980s. He produced plays and musicals at Notre Dame for 25 years.

The 79-year-old has no plans to retire but says he shares an agreement with Notre Dame’s principal that he’ll leave with no argument when he’s told it’s time.

For now, Charlton is focused on training for his walkathon. As of Feb. 19, he’d worked up to 10 kilometres.

Friends have volunteered to walk alongside Charlton, but he wants to go it alone.

“I figured it would be a nice chance to reflect on 80 years of existence,” he said.

For more information, click on the “Mr. Charlton’s Walkathon” tab at

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