Two careers, several leagues apart 

By Jacob Hoytema – 

A local elementary school teacher can now put the rank of “Commodore” before his name, after recently being appointed the new commander of Canada’s Naval Reserves. Mike Hopper is perhaps best known in this community as a teacher. He’s also made an impact in Kitchissippi through his work as a special education teacher at Elmdale Public School, where he has worked for thirteen years. But for the next year, he’ll be on the road — and at sea — to serve the much larger community of Canada’s naval reservists.

Mike Hopper, a special education teacher at Elmdale Public School, has been appointed Commodore of the Naval Reserves of the Royal Canadian Navy. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces

“I’m very excited,” says Mike. “This is the culmination of a long service, and I’m just very proud to have been appointed as commander of the naval reserves… it’s just an honour to be able to do this.”

Mike has been in the naval reserves thirty-two years, after joining at the age of seventeen.

“I joined when I was in high school, not thinking I would go past my first summer, but I was always engaged by the challenge of the jobs that were presented to me, [as well as] working with some fantastic people, being able to travel,” he says.

He’s appreciated the flexibility of being able to take part in the reserves while engaging in other walks of life. During his part-time or short-term work with the reserves, Mike also worked towards his career in teaching. He earned his bachelor of education from the University of Ottawa in the late nineties and started working with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) soon after.

The two jobs rarely converged, except on Remembrance Day, when Mike wore his naval uniform to the school’s ceremony.

For most of his career, Mike has been able to do both jobs concurrently. But this new position will require him to take a year-long leave from teaching.

“I just consider myself really fortunate that I have two jobs that I love,” he says, praising OCDSB’s willingness to allow him some time away. “I love teaching, I love working with the kids in the school board, but I also love the navy.”

While the two careers might seem several leagues apart from each other, Mike says they share some skills, such as organization, leadership and planning. These values that are reinforced in the navy “cross over into everyday life,” he says. Indeed, he has also had some teaching opportunities within the navy itself on subjects such as minesweeping and navigation.

Mike officially took over the role on July 20 at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, in a ceremony at which Cmdr. Marta Mulkins, his predecessor as naval reserves commander, was also present. Mike himself had just been promoted to the rank of Commodore earlier that month.

He has taken a navy-related leave of absence from the OCDSB once before, during the whole calendar year of 2002. In that time, he was the commanding officer of HMCS Summerside, a 55-metre coastal defence ship that had only been in service for a few years. Under his command, the vessel took part in a visit to the Arctic Circle, meant to reinforce Canadian sovereignty in the North.

Mike says he’s also been to Europe a few times, traveled Canada’s east coast eight times and has travelled across the Atlantic on a destroyer.

His new position will be equally travel-heavy. He and his family will remain in Ottawa, but he will have to travel across the country multiple times a month over the next year to visit forces bases and have meetings, and visit the naval reserve HQ in Quebec City. Indeed, when the Kitchissippi Times spoke with the Commodore, he was already busy at work in BC.

Nonetheless, Mike says he’s excited by the work ahead: “The fact that I have two challenging jobs that I love makes me feel very fortunate.”

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