Local, everyday heroes: Meet Steve Cavan (ESL/EFL teacher extraordinaire)

As many of my readers know, at least one daily television newscast in Canada has long featured “local everyday heroes,” as a way to improve upon the often depressing and painful realities of world news.  Starting this week, and on occasion, I want to introduce in this blog often unseen colleagues, contacts, and other entrepreneurs or artists in our community,  who embody a “heroic” kind of decency  in their daily lives.

But can the word “hero” or “heroic” have any integrity of meaning,  at this time in history, you might ask. In his recent collection of interviews, Extraordinary Canadians, CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge defined the term “hero” as anyone who puts the needs of others before themselves.  The book collects the stories of the bravery and service of some dozen Canadians, from all walks of life.

As you may recall, during early Covid times , I completed my certification to teach English as a Foreign (or Second) Language, through TEFL.org (based in Scotland). I discovered before the pandemic began how much I had missed learning foreign languages, since I stopped studying French and Spanish at the end of my undergraduate studies, more than 20 years ago.

Due to the long distances that separate English language learners around the world and teachers, like me (who also come from all over the globe), much ESL teaching now occurs online, using platforms like italki.com  or Cambly.com (amongst numerous others). Of course, Covid has only intensified the need for online instruction, so platforms like Zoom and Skype are heavily used in language instruction.

Getting to know and use online teaching platforms, as a way to meet and teach students, is not for the faint-of-heart. There are often many functions of networks that are not self-explanatory; some trial-and-error is involved and teachers often worry about securing good rankings from their students, so as to sustain a strong flow of clients.

While my knowledge of English grammar was relatively good as a writer, editor and former graduate student of literature, I have learned more since becoming certified in ESL. Even so, English can be a messy language, at times, and I’m occasionally stumped by questions I encounter. At such times, having a mentor or advisor can be a God-send. It also breaks the isolation of Covid self-distancing to have someone available to discuss queries online.

Enter Steve Cavan, a professional ESL teacher on italki, who has taught himself linguistics and (over the years) English grammar to better help English language learners around the globe.  Steve helps students improve their pronunciation in order to reduce the distortion caused by their accents and an ensuing lack of comprehensibility that often occurs for  foreign speakers of English.  Some of these students are training to teach English, themselves, in their own countries, or seek to learn it  to advance their careers. And some go online sheerly out of personal interest.

Steve is known locally as the talented spouse of one of the University of Saskatchewan’s resident geniuses in the English Department, Professor Kathleen James-Cavan. Steve is brilliant in his own right (and was once accepted to do a doctorate in the UK, after earning Master’s degrees in philosophy and Classics in Southern Ontario).  I would include his photo in this posting, but that would fly in the face of his modesty.

Steve has taught extensively Greek and Roman Classics, history and writing for non-Arts majors, amongst other disciplines, for St. Thomas More College at the U of S. To read more about his remarkable (and varied) career, please read my book, Keep Going: Five Creatives Build Resilience, which is available here: www.storytellingcommunications.ca/books

I know Steve best as an interviewee in that book, where I discussed his resilience in developing and operating (as chief brewmaster) Paddock Wood Brewery (PWB).  Steve pioneered craft beer brewing in Saskatchewan, long before it became the popular industry it is now. He started PWB in 1995 and operated it for more than 20 years, through choppy waters that included outdated government policies, operational challenges  and more.

One of his colleagues, Stephen Ross, writes this about Steve Cavan’s work:

“Steve is a professional in all his business dealings, and his contagious passion and dedication to craft brewing drive all his decisions. I had no hesitation in partnering with Steve, or in following his lead in groundbreaking small market brewing in Canada. Under Steve’s direction Paddock Wood has grown from a small pilot project to Saskatchewan’s first and only microbrewery, with multi-provincial distribution.”

Dozens of popular microbreweries that now dot Saskatchewan’s landscape owe virtually everything they can do to Steve’s pioneering work.

He has achieved similar success with his more recent business idea, of teaching ESL, one-on-one, to students internationally. He works on the Chinese network italki, as I now do, with his encouragement.  Steve is one of the platform’s highest ranked English teachers and has built a following of students from South America, Russia and elsewhere–countries where time zone differences from Saskatoon are manageable.

But what makes Steve a “local, everyday hero” is his willingness to share with a new teacher, like me, and with all of his students, the finer points of grammar, usage  and even the italki platform.

He could easily roll out a training program and charge a high fee for subscribers. (Many entrepreneurs do.)  But Steve scrupulously refuses to do so.  He reads, teaches and writes, quietly and modestly, passing incognito through much of both our academic and entrepreneurial communities.

So  I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass–perhaps of one of the fine beers that he once pioneered at Paddock Wood– to toast Steve Cavan as one of Saskatchewan’s amazing local heroes. He is a teacher with a passion for learning, educating and helping others. Although he would resist the term “hero,” his generosity with and compassion for others, along with his commitment to excellence, make him a true exemplar of the word.