A tale of three teachers: Water Cooler Blog October 2016

school-1551049by Melany Hallam

Question: Did you have a teacher who had a big influence (either positive or negative) on your career outside of school?  Yes/No/Somewhat

Three of my best friends are teachers, so I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years about what actually goes on in classrooms and schools on a day-to-day basis. One of my friends now teaches grade one French immersion in West Vancouver, the second taught adult high school upgrading for 20 years in inner city Vancouver and the third, middle and high school kids up north.

That’s quite a range of teaching situations and students, from privileged kids through to not-so-privileged adults. You’d think the stories from each of my friends would be quite different. But they’re not. Here are things that I’ve learned about teaching from all three of them:

  • Each classroom is filled with students who are individuals, with a huge range of learning needs and abilities. I hear my friends’ frustration as they try to figure out how to reach them all on a resources budget of near zero and limited classroom time.
  • There are always some real characters who don’t fit into the traditional way of teaching and learning. I hear my friends’ affection for these kids, and the satisfaction they feel when they are able to come up with a creative way of engaging them in learning – sometimes in ways that are not quite school board-approved.
  • Some students’ families are convinced that their kids can do no wrong, and some are so self-involved that they don’t see their own kids struggling (or achieving). I hear my teacher friends as they either attempt to resist or give in and embrace that urge to parent their students.

I’m thinking about all of this right now because a couple of weeks ago, one of my friends (let’s call her Nancy) flew off to another province to help a former student who was in personal crisis. Nancy paid for a plane ticket and paid for the ferry, arranged a place to stay with friends, borrowed a car, figured out how to use her GPS app (no small feat) and made it out to an obscure health facility, where she spent many hours each day listening and asking gently focussed questions – all to support a former student that she absolutely believes in.

Listening to Nancy talk about this experience, it’s hard not to feel what she’s feeling. It’s devastating. It’s exhausting. It’s hope and despair at the same time.

Nancy’s story is above and beyond, I realize, and not many teachers would do this for their students. But, like any profession, teaching includes people who do it for the salary and people who do it because that’s who they are. Whatever their reasons for doing the job, they all face multiple challenges – parents, administration, students. The education system is far from perfect, but we survive it and can look back on our school years somewhere on the scale of “best years of my life” to “most traumatic time ever”.

The point is that the impact of teachers and the education system can be huge on individuals and on society as a whole. The United Nations has declared October 5 World Teachers’ Day, recognizing that, “… teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics.”

Events are planned around the world, and more information is available here.

Maybe take a moment on Oct. 5 to think about what teachers mean to you and perhaps come up with some small way in which you might support their positive impact. The next kid saved by a teacher could be yours.


Food for thought – some ideas from creativity expert and educator Ken Robinson on the case for radical rethink of our school system. He talks about the link between three troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. An important, timely talk for parents and teachers: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms


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