Reprint from ParentCentral.ca
Leo Chau was so quiet in grade school that he didn’t talk to other kids. The boy, who emigrated from Hong Kong when he was seven, wouldn’t even ask the teacher for permission to go to the washroom. Teachers told the boy’s mother that he was so introverted something must be wrong with him, that he should see a doctor.
Something was wrong. The boy was so quiet he never told the teachers about the bullying, about the kid who stole his backpack or the kids who kicked his feet under the desks. And no teacher ever seemed to notice.
Until Rocky Signorile, his Grade 6 teacher.
“He took the time to talk to me, to see if everything was okay,” says Chau, 22. “He looked after me and made sure I wasn’t picked on. I felt like he was my father figure at school.”
Chau remembers the time another student called him an insulting name. Signorile overheard it and confronted the student, explaining it wasn’t acceptable. It never happened again.
After class or during breaks, the teacher at Cummer Valley Middle School would often pull Chau aside for a quick reassuring word, always encouraging him to speak up more.
“It made me feel better about going to school,” says Chau, a University of Waterloo graduate who begins physiotherapy studies at the University of Toronto in September. “Mr. Signorile jump started my confidence.”
Chau is also a professional tennis coach, interacting with people all the time. “Although still quiet, I’m no longer the shy person that I was before and I’d like to thank him for that,” the young man wrote in his email to the Star looking for his teacher.
Still teaching with the Toronto Board of Education, he’s worked for the last four years at the Muki Baum Children’s Treatment Centre, a program for kids with complex developmental disabilities and emotional or psychiatric disorders.
Mention Chau to him, and Signorile, 39, doesn’t miss a beat. “A nice kid. Quiet. He kept himself off to the side. I used to talk to him about breaking out of his shell.”
When Chau visited him recently at Muki Baum, Signorile greeted the young man with a big hug. They reminisced about old times. “There was a free flow of conversation,” says Signorile. “I used to have to pry things out of that boy. He’s definitely matured and changed.”
The two exchanged emails to arrange a time to play tennis. “I think I’m good,” laughs Signorile, “then I realized who I was talking to. Now he can teach me a few things.”
Chau apparently gained more than confidence from his school year with Signorile. He picked up some teaching tips.
When instructing tennis, Chau keeps a close eye on his quiet students. “I talk to them every day,” he says. “Just starting a conversation shows you care about them. Just like Mr. Signorile did.”