Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In Praise of Teachers

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears
I come to praise teachers not to bury them.

     Okay, maybe those weren't the famous words of Marcus Antonius but I think I can make a compelling case for why they should be. And no, this is not going to be a rant designed to sway the views of anyone engaged in the myriad of teacher disputes that seem so prevalent today. Instead it is my homage to the group that I feel carries the most sway and creates the greatest benefits for our society today. Teachers are the difference makers, they are the game changers, and they are the folks who have the strongest impact on the communities of the future. It's long past the time where they should be acknowledged as such. Regardless of whom you might admire and regardless of that individual's field of endeavour, it's very likely a teacher started them on their course. Yes, I'm aware of the exceptions - the self made geniuses - but those folks are the exceptions. Just like the world's oldest man who, upon being asked the secret to his longevity, confesses to a shot of scotch and a daily cigar, anomalies abound. The general rule is that a teacher somewhere started the ball rolling.

     The role of the teacher has taken on a much greater complexity than when I was a student. Perhaps one of the biggest differences has to do with the nature of the students making up todays' classroom. When I went to school, the vast majority of the population "looked like me". It was a pretty homogenous population. Students that were different in any way went to specialized schools and were rarely seen in the public school. My children went to school with students from across the spectrum of needs and learned valuable skills as a result. I believe they got a better education as a result of ALL students being integrated into the public school and I will continue to champion full integration as the correct model. However, it does bring a unique set of challenges that seemingly escapes those who reminisce for the good old days where classes of 40 students were acceptable. As alluded to earlier, this may have been okay (although I highly doubt the effectiveness) when the group was fairly similar but it no longer works today. A recent visit to a grade 7 classroom brought this to light. The teacher had 30 students including one whose behaviour is quite severe and is marked by regular outbursts that include swearing and throwing desks. The teacher manages this with a gentle, supportive manner while also having the remaining 29 students on task and learning valuable skills of empathy and support. This is not to suggest that the remaining students do not also pose the occasional challenges but does underscore what's different in classrooms today. It's also why comparisons to a different era are irrelevant and serve only to confuse the issue and add to a negative portrayal that is both unfair and unfortunate.

     I am thankful to the many teachers who have made significant contributions to my life and have provided the foundation that has allowed me to achieve many things. The early predictors were not always so positive and I know some great teachers challenged those and provided a spark that set a better path in place. Mr. Mullahoo, Mr. Springer, Mrs. Fainsilber, Mr Huberman, and Mr. Cheyne all left positive impressions with me and they did so without ever knowing if their good efforts would take hold. I am thrilled that my youngest daughter has entered the teacher education program and I know she will be a difference maker. We don't talk about salary as she (like most teachers) is not entering the profession to become rich but instead to provide a richness to the lives of others.

"You want to know what I make?
I'm a teacher, and I make a difference"

last line from the book "What Do You Make?" by Tom Hierck

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