Kirk Moss still remembers clearly being told in Grade Nine by a guidance counsellor that he would never be able to cope with academic courses even though he had pushed himself extremely hard to develop his reading and writing skills that school year.
That was the first wake-up call for the new Jamaican immigrant that expectations for him were very low and that he would have to work twice as hard if he wanted to become the first member of his family to attend university.
The now 31-year-old Moss took up the challenge, vowing he would use his experiences to teach young people the value of education so they could attempt to move beyond the limitations set by others.
The Jarvis Collegiate teacher was recently rewarded for teaching excellence and dedication with an honourable mention in the first ever Toronto Star teaching awards to mark World Teachers Day.
Moss dedicated the award to his grandmother, Phyllis Baker, who passed away two days after he learned about the recognition. She took care of him and his siblings after his mother came to Canada to provide a foundation for her kids to settle here.
“My grandma presented me with the environment to grow into the person I am today,” said Moss who attended her funeral in Jamaica last week. “She asserted her sense of independence by single-handedly building her own home and raising her children and grandchildren. It was she who gave me the backbone to stand up for my rights, develop self worth, esteem and respect and she taught me to be the well-rounded and overall professional that I am today.”
Though proficient in general level courses, Moss admitted that he actually believed that he could not handle Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) courses and it was not until he was in Grade 11 that a meeting with a Ryerson engineering student living in his apartment building convinced him otherwise.
“Erin (Moss could not remember the surname) taught me through one and one sessions that I could do anything I wanted and he allowed me to overcome the fear of taking OAC courses,” said Moss. “At the time, none of my peers was in OAC classes, so I felt that I would never pass. Looking back, I can now proudly say that my best years of academic achievement came during OAC courses.”
Graduating as an Ontario scholar with an 82 per cent average, Moss was awarded a Maytree Foundation scholarship to attend York University where he met sociologists Dr. Rinaldo Walcott and Dr. Althea Prince who at that time taught the “Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African American Experience” course.
“They played major roles in impacting my life academically, culturally, historically, socially and politically and in shaping my perspective of myself and the world in which I live,” he said.
Moss spent a year at York before transferring to Ryerson University to successfully pursue a Journalism degree.
Armed with his certification and a passion for sports and writing, he landed several short-term assignments over a two-year period with the Toronto Star, Omni TV, CBC, Canadian Press, CTV, Flow 93.5 FM and became a member of the Canadian Association of Black Journalists where he helped to produce their newsletter.
Four years ago, Moss switched careers.
“I was born in Jamaica which is the first place I learned to love and journalism was my first career that I loved and still love,” he said. “I am however now located in Canada and presently situated in education where my passion currently lies. I want to have a limitless life and one where I can excel and make a positive impact and contribution to society.”
Moss said his passion for teaching emerged from interacting with young people in some of the city’s designated high priority neighbourhoods, including Regent Park and Jane-Finch.
“I wanted to become involved in some capacity to share my experiences with young people,” he said. “In fact, I used to volunteer at schools before I took up teaching so I knew I could make a very meaningful contribution by being part of an institution or structure that builds capacity for youths to excel.”
The history, social science and civics teacher is currently enrolled in the first Toronto Civics 101 program that, among other things, gives participants an insight as to how decisions are made at City Hall. He was among 175 participants chosen for the six-session program that attracted 900 applicants.
“I am really excited to be part of this program because it allows me to share with my students information that will enrich their lives,” said Moss who taught history and law last year at York Memorial Collegiate.