I remember being in kindergarten. It was the first year that kindergarten was an option and Mrs. Kovaks was my teacher. I still remember the pictures on the wall, the little tables and chairs and the snack my mom packed me. By the time I hit grade 3 I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I played school every weekend and all summer long using my dolls and teddy bears as students. I would write up math tests and read stories at “story time”. During that same year, I recall that I was sick one spring afternoon and was sitting on the front step in the sunshine. Across the street from where I grew up, there was a school for kids who were not like me. There was a huge linked fence surrounding the yard and a lock on the gate so that no one could get in and no one could get out. The children were outside for recess and I had always been told that I must go to the other side of the street so I watched from the safety of my front step.
The children were running and laughing and playing on the swings. They looked just like me – how could they be different and what made them “special”. At some point two little girls walked up to the linked fence. They were about my age and yelling at me “girl girl”. I looked around to see who they were talking to. I was the only child outside and I realized it was me. “Girl girl come here” they yelled. I decided that it would be OK to walk to the edge of my yard to see what they wanted.
They continued to call to me pleading to come to the fence. I gathered the courage and decided that I would be safe with the large metal face standing sturdy between us. As I crossed the street and approached the fence one of the girls pushed some hand picked crocuses through the holes. As I recall this moment it was as if the crocuses were falling in slow motion. The girls were just like me. They had brown hair and big smiles. As the wild flowers floated to the grass on my side of the fence, I picked them up and decided at that moment that I would be the best teacher ever and welcome all children into my classroom – even children who were “special”.
I went to University for 4 years and learned how to teach science so the children would want to explore their world. I would teach math so that the children would understand numbers and their relation to the world. I took several courses in “Special Education” so that I would feel confident in welcoming children with unique gifts into my classroom. I would be idealistic and change the world. It was my dream.
On my first day as a teacher I had already spent months preparing. This would be my classroom. I would be responsible for the learning of 25 little minds for one whole year. I could hardly wait. I still remember the dress I wore that day. It was a navy blue dress with big white buttons and a large sailor column. At break time on that first day I walked into the staff room with my perfect ideals intact. I was welcomed with smiles by most of the staff with the exception of Mr. B. the grade 6 teacher. He sat in “his chair” in the corner. He snickered as I gushed about how wonderful the children were, how much fun it was to help them organize their materials. From the corner he loudly snickered and chortled loudly “17”. I looked over my shoulder and realized he was talking to me. I replied “pardon me?” He repeated “17” and added, “that is how many staff meetings I have left until my retirement. Don’t worry kid, I give it until Christmas holidays that the little buggers will beat that smile right off your face and you will be counting down your days until the next holiday”.
I could feel my cheeks turn read and the tears well up in my eyes. I quickly headed to the bathroom where I cried silently in the stall. As I heard the bell ring calling us back after recess I stood in front of the mirror and wiped the tears form my cheeks and applied a cold press to my eyes. At that moment I made a promise to myself. I would never go to work a day that I didn’t want to be there. The day that I started to count down to the holidays or retirement I would quit and find another career. Over the years, I have never wavered.
This year marks 27 years since I graduated from University as a teacher. I have embraced every teaching assignment as a welcomed challenge and opportunity to learn and grow. Some of the greatest areas of growth have come because of the mentors. We can only assume that we make a difference in the lives of children. Sometimes we make a difference in the lives of those we work with. Some remember their school experience fondly because of one teacher who made a difference. In my life there are a number of people who made a difference:
Mrs. Cockburn – my high school science teacher: Taught me that there is nothing like going beyond the confines of the classroom to learn.
Mrs. Dahlm – One of my high school English teachers: Taught me that it is important to provide students with the opportunity to express their learning through music and art.
Maureen Yamashita – who taught me the importance and necessity of professional development
Alvin Johnston – That even as a teacher, your family is most important
Lisa Edey – Life is short – don’t wait for tomorrow to have fun today and laugh often.
Louise Krewusik – Being a leader is more than a title. It is doing the right thing even when the right thing is not popular.
Deb Bird – All children can succeed. It is up to me to find the golden nugget to make that possible.
George McGuigan – Lead by example, make connections with the kids and their families.
Lisa Miller – teaching is not a job – it is a calling. It is an opportunity to say “I love you” every day.
Perhaps you can take time to talk to your own children about the teachers in their lives. What difference are they making in your child’s life? Or maybe take an opportunity to write a note to a former teacher in your own life. “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” — Carl Jung