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Comp foods teacher looks back on 24 years in Okotoks

Having found his calling back in 1998, 60-year-old foods teacher and chef Greg Poile isn't hanging up the apron yet, but headed up to teach in the Northwest Territories.
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Foothills Composite High School teacher Greg Poile, pictured on June 16 in his classroom, is departing after 24 years teaching foods at the school.

Greg Poile has taught foods at Foothills Composite High School since 1998 — 24 years.

Having turned 60 last week, the teacher and chef is looking north for the next chapter of his life, destined for Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

Poile began his teaching career after turning the page on another chapter of his life.   

“I was a chef originally, then at about age 30 I decided to go back to university to pursue something else,” Poile said. “I hadn’t set my mind as I went through the door, it wasn’t on education, but it became education.

“My parents were both teachers, so I had actively gone, ‘I’m not choosing that, I’m not choosing that.'”

His mind was changed when he had a brush with teaching.

“But then they placed me in a little Grade 1 class, and I absolutely loved it, it was a really fun experience” Poile said. “Those little ankle biters just eager to learn and thrilled that you’re there helping them, I knew that moment that had to be my career.”

Thinking he would find a job teaching biology or even elementary students, he found himself back in a kitchen.   

“I hadn’t planned ed on being a foods teacher,” Poile said. “Being a middle school science teacher was sort of how I was training myself, I would even have been fine being an elementary school generalist — I hadn’t even thought about high school.”

Again, he found his preconceptions challenged.

“I’d worked with a lot of high school kids as a chef, those are the kids you always have to yell and send them home because they’re not working hard enough,” Poile said.

“But I got this job. I got this job and found out that the little Grade 1s that come and hug your leg and tell you thanks for teaching them art become 16-year-olds who stopped by just to say, 'I got a new dog!’ and blah blah blah, they tell you their life stories.

“It took me about a year to figure out that that’s how they hug your ankle at that age, because they choose to interact with you when they could spend their time doing anything else.”

Suddenly the chef had found the secret recipe.

“Especially now, I could be the patient teacher instead of the hyper chef that’s focused on productivity,” Poile said.

Originally applying to a school in Sparwood, a teacher with several years of experience on him got the role, but referred him to the Composite.

Since then he estimates he has graduated thousands of students from his class, some of whom went on to great success in the culinary industry and even found themselves as his colleagues.

“What I've got out of it over the 24 years is just so many life experiences,” Poile said. “It’s long enough now that I’m starting to teach the second generation.   

“Last year was my first kid that, at least self-identified, said, ‘You taught my mom.’”

One of those students is Serena Schwarz, who left her prior role as a pastry chef for the Hyatt Regency in 2021 to step into the kitchen clogs of Karen Peters, and she remembers the day she stepped into his classroom as a Grade 10 student, back in 2004.

“He was wearing pepper pants, like, chef pants that had peppers all over them,” Schwarz said. “Originally I wanted to be a hair stylist, so I was focusing on cosmetology, but I still loved food, I love eating and making food, so I took foods.

“I had him for all three years, so you could really get to know him, he was always very open and honest.

“So it was after I hated working in the salon, and I was looking at him thinking I could actually do this as a living that actually changed my career trajectory.

“It like changed my entire life because it changed my career, and then I met my significant other through my job, so I feel like my whole path has been shaped from taking his classes.”

Poile turned out to be the ankle to hug.

“I remember coming in here (the kitchen) and he was just always there to listen,” Schwarz said. “He was always there to listen to the kids, a counsellor without being a counsellor.

“Even now working with him, he’s just always there for the kids, and it doesn’t matter about the food as much as it matters what the kids are going through, and I felt back then, even, he was always someone you could go talk to.”

The Northwest Territories aren’t such a stretch for Poile, having nurtured his love for travel over years of school trips to Europe and having had grandparents that lived in Inuvik.

“Karen Peters and I were able to take kids travelling every Easter,” Poile said, listing Japan, Italy, Greece, France, Spain, and the UK.

“It just extended some of my experiences, as I’d already done a bit of travelling, but that really set the travel bug, and it changes one’s perspective on your place in the world.

“It always makes you resent the bar of ‘Am I just a small town person, or am I a citizen of the world?’, and if you’re a citizen of the world, the world’s your oyster.”

The chef is grateful for his time at the Composite, having touched so many lives.

“A lot of teachers will teach in a number of buildings over the course of their career until they find the right fit, something where they feel comfortable and valued,” Poile said. “I feel really blessed, really lucky that I found that right off the first hop."


Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Okotoks Western Wheel and OkotoksToday.ca
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