Monday, January 20, 2014

A bit of fame?

Education alumnus works and travels around the world…and back again

Uncommon career path combines passion for academics and adventure
January 20, 2014
Steven Tober at the summit of Ecuador's Cotopaxi.
Steven Tober at the summit of Ecuador's Cotopaxi. Photo courtesy Steven Tober
Steven Tober with his students in Benghazi, Libya.
Steven Tober with his students in Benghazi, Libya. Photo courtesy of Steven Tober
Steven Tober and his son Ramon cycling in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Steven Tober and his son Ramon cycling in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy of Steven Tober
Steven Tober, BA'97, BEd'04, isn’t one to let the grass grow under his feet. At 51, the educator has bicycled the equivalent of the earth’s circumference and he’s completed six marathons. He’s climbed more than 150 mountains in North, Central, South America and Africa, and was the first person to complete all 102 climbs in the Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies guidebook. And he’s created his own opportunities to teach in South America, Africa, and China.
It’s pretty clear Tober likes seeing the world. So what could possibly make him come home to Canada?
“We decided to come back to Calgary to be closer to my family after being close to my wife Maria's for six years in Colombia and Ecuador," he explains. “We’re introducing our kids to Canadian culture and winter, which they love so far. And we are re-experiencing Calgary through our kids’ eyes now.
“It seems like a whole new adventure.”
Tober spent his early years in Port Coquitlam, where he got his first job delivering the local paper by bicycle. “That started the habit of being a morning person,” he says. “I loved having the world to myself to explore in the wee hours of the morning.”
It seems as though these solo adventures served to spur his interest in getting out and seeing the world. Upon graduation from high school, he skied his way from Whistler to the mountains of Banff and Lake Louise; he windsurfed in Mexico and worked in Las Vegas making pizzas. He even spent a year as a bricklayer in Australia.
Nearly two decades later, Tober received his BA from the University of Calgary, but not before taking a year off to teach English in Colombia. While there, he met his wife and they returned to Calgary, where he enrolled in the elementary stream in the undergraduate program in education. And then he hit the road, teaching the British National Curriculum at schools in Colombia, Ecuador, China, and Libya.
Some of the stories Tober tells couldn’t be made up. While working at the British School of Benghazi, Libya, he taught a Grade 2 class including one of Moammar Gadhafi's nephews; he helped to get the boy, who was struggling to learn, diagnosed with ADHD. In Colombia, he saw many of his students—the children of foreign diplomats—chauffeured to and from school in bulletproof vehicles. He once had his car stolen at gunpoint in Libya and he was robbed by a machete-wielding bandit in Bogota.
Somehow, during this time, Tober also managed to bike through about 40 countries and he continued to climb. His wife and two young children joined on many of his side-trips. But it’s the journey of life and planning for his children’s future that has him grounded and returning to Calgary.
“International contracts are for two years and although they can be renewed, there are restrictions depending on the country,” he says. “We’ll still go back to Colombia every couple of years and I would love to do a few trips with the kids on tandem bikes.”
And while Tober says being back in Canada will mean better opportunities for his family, he’ll most likely always have a case of wanderlust and a hunger for learning more about the world.
Tober’s teaching philosophy is to “teach who we are; warts and all” and having lived as a global citizen, he hopes to be an inspirational, if slightly eccentric, role model for his students in the multicultural setting of Calgary.
Visit the Werklund School of Education’s website to read more education alumni profiles.
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