Maybe it’s because I’ve been in the education profession for almost 30 years, but I find myself thinking about some of my previous teachers quite regularly. There are many teachers in my past who transformed my thinking and being — provided me with a window of opportunity for personal growth. Here are some of the great teachers I’ve been thinking about recently:
- Ms. Kincaid (Gr 2, Blythwood Elem, Toronto) – She was always so kind and gentle making everyone feel wanted and loved — easily one of the sweetest teachers I ever knew in school.
- Ms. Bell (Gr 10 English, Central Memorial HS, Calgary) – My high school English teacher recognized when I was new to the school that I needed to make connections. She was directing the school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and told me that I was now part of the cast. I joined and met my lifelong friend, Gord.
- Mr. Polukoshko (Gr12 Biology, Central Memorial HS, Calgary) – Great subject teacher, but an even better person. I came back to see him in my first year of university to get some help with some genetics. He spent a lot of time with me making sure that I completely understood cell division.
- Mr. Fred Hunt (Education, Univ of Calgary) – Great mentor to brand new teachers. Calm, patient, funny, but most of all he wondered about us, asking us questions about ourselves, our strengths and our challenges.
- Dr. Michael Cavey (Zoology, Univ of Calgary) – Probably the best teacher of content I ever had, but he also deeply cared about his students. I took every undergraduate course that he taught. Awesome prof!
As I reflect on this list of some of my wonderful teachers and what they gave to me — I see gifts of personal safety, inclusion, support and mentor-ship. They believed in me.
These are only a few of the amazing teachers who helped shape me into the person I am today. There are many more examples of teachers who made an impact in my life — not just my teaching life, but my personal life as well. These extraordinary people guided me, pushed me into uncomfortable places to make me realize my potential, and made me feel appreciated and proud of myself. They weren’t the easiest teachers, nor the coolest ones. Those aren’t the characteristics that make a teacher great.
Great Teachers Make their Students Better People
Dr. Cavey, for example, was NOT an easy professor. You needed to really work to get a good grade in his zoology courses. OMG his exams were difficult — the most difficult I would ever write. They were ‘multiple-multiple choice’. The answer key looked something like this:
You clearly needed to know your ‘stuff’ before writing any exam. But his class notes were spectacular and his explanations were complete. If you stayed focused in class and studied regularly you would do well in his course.
But, most importantly, Dr. Cavey made time for you. His office hours? I don’t remember him having any. Maybe he did. It didn’t really matter. If he wasn’t teaching he was likely in his lab in the basement of the BioSciences building. You could drop in to see him. He’d make time for you. He cared about your success.
All of the teachers I’ve listed above were like that. They made a significant difference in my life. They helped make me into the person I am today.
Teachers are one of the few professions where making that personal connection with your clients can be the most important part. Yes, the curriculum content is an important component of teaching, but it’s not what makes teachers great.
To be a Teacher is to Make Others Believe in Themselves
Great teaching is not really about WHAT you teach — it’s about WHY you teach and even HOW you teach. We remember our favourite teachers because they have affected us in profound ways.
These memorable teachers recognize the need to make a connection:
- They ask us about our weekend soccer game, our new backpack or whatever our own unique interests are;
- They push us to learn new things because they have faith in us;
- They reassure us when we need it the most;
- They notice those days when our emotional needs are sometimes more important than our academic ones;
So, at this time I want to say “Thank you”. Thank you to all of our teachers. We specifically celebrate you on World Teachers’ Day, but appreciate all that you do for our children every day of the year.