I am sometimes asked by others what my favourite job has been in education. I can honestly say that I’ve loved all of them — Teacher, Science Department Head, Vice-Principal, Principal, Director of Instruction, Assistant Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent and now Superintendent.
But the one with the greatest Pure Joy has to be teaching — being in my own classroom and interacting with my students was awesome! I was a ‘substitute’ teacher (now known as a TTOC) in my first year and then taught in 3 different schools for the next 9 years. Those 10 years in the classroom at the beginning of my career were magical.
An article in Edutopia (The Joy in Teaching High School) got me thinking about what made it so wonderful for me. Yes … I loved teaching science, but the TRUE JOY for me was making connections with students:
- Teenagers are awesome if you take the time to know them, understand their passions and remember to check-in with them periodically.
- Teenagers really want their teachers to like them. For me, liking them was easy — they are all so different with some amazingly great abilities that can often only be found by taking a bit of time to get to know them. Here’s a great example:
- Michael Valiante — I taught him in both Gr 9 and 10. He was a quiet student — funny and chatty for sure … but certainly not loud enough for me to know about his young career as a professional race car driver if I didn’t ask Michael about Michael. He was in Gr 10 and already racing cars — what a great piece of information to know about him!
I had a seating plan for every class — and, yes, it certainly helped me learn the annual count of close to 200 names faster than if I didn’t have one. However, what my students didn’t know is that I also used it as a checklist. Each seating plan sheet was inside an acetate sleeve that I could mark up with an erasable marker. I made sure that I not only checked which students were being asked questions, but who was still on my ‘I don’t really know them yet’ list. Who did I need to chat with about their sports jersey, the game they played on the weekend, or the drama production they were rehearsing?
Ask them about them.
Who doesn’t like to feel acknowledged and appreciated?
For me, I knew that if I could get to know each student — something about them as a person — it could help them feel more connected to school, to my classroom and to me as their teacher. Sure, I wanted them to want to come to my class but more importantly I wanted them to know that someone cared about them. Even as Superintendent as I wander into a school these days I still try to ask something of a student or at least acknowledge one student every time — maybe its their sports jersey, or the cool hat their wearing, or maybe it’s just saying what a beautiful day it is outside today.
Letting your students know that you notice them and care enough to take the time to connect with them can make all the difference in the world.
Giving students that critical sense of attachment to an adult in school can literally be life changing for some — school may be that lone place where they feel connected, appreciated and valued.
And if I’m being completely honest, knowing something about my students made my JOY in coming to work that much better. It reminded me that while I taught science, chemistry and math the most important thing I was actually teaching were people.
Being a teacher is an incredible gift. Where else can you routinely make a difference in the lives of so many young people while at the same time having a career that is regularly filled with PURE JOY.