“Let me tell you about the teacher who changed my life!”
A year ago I had spoken about the importance of teachers in students’ lives. After the program and before I could leave the arena, I was stopped by parent after parent who wanted to tell me about a special teacher who had “been there” for them at a critical time in their school life.
I listened intently as one described how his teacher worked to help him read when he fell behind.
Another was grateful to a teacher who convinced her to not drop out of school.
One parent remembered a teacher who restored her confidence and made her feel worthwhile at a time when she had no friends.
Outside the arena and on my way to my car, another parent recognized me and had to stop to tell me about his teacher who had worked outside of class to help him catch up in math. He learned that if he could stick with tasks that were hard, even if he didn’t like it, he could work through them. And that was a skill he carried throughout life.
I visited a student teacher a few weeks ago. She was changing lives too.
I don’t sit at the back of the class where I can only see the back of students’ heads. I sit at the side so I can look back and see student’s eyes. My student teacher was enthusiastic. As she taught the lesson, I could see student faces “light up.” You could see the “Ah, ha!” in many eyes.
And that is exactly the phrase she used when we met together with her principal during her planning period: “I like to see the ‘Ah, ha!’ in their eyes,” she said. I think I make a difference with some of them.”
“She has made a difference in some student’s lives,” the principal confirmed. He was eager to get her on payroll as soon as student teaching was over. With her solid command of biology and chemistry, he needed her in the advanced classes. “But I still want her to teach one introductory class because with her enthusiasm, she can change the lives of some of them.”
That was a very wise principal. He knew that no single teacher can change the lives of all of their students. Some students are self-motivated and grow under any teacher. And not all students have crisis-points in their life where a teacher rescues them.
And student personalities vary. They do not all respond to the same teacher.
For the parents who related the special teacher that helped them out at a critical point in life, I know that they had classmates who had different “special teachers.” An athlete may relate to a coach. Other students may accept guidance from a shop or home economics teacher. Teachers vary widely in personality. And so do students.
Take the “best” teacher at a school—by whatever measure you want to use—and clone them. Make every teacher in the whole school exactly like this “best” teacher, and you will have a monotonous school.
The real world is full of a wide range of personalities. School is a place where students learn to relate to and interact with this variation. Some teachers let you enter class a few seconds after the bell; others are demanding. Some are gentle. Some are strict.
All teachers should know their subject and be able to communicate it. All should care that their students learn. But a diversity in teachers is critical for a good school.
Our children come into school different. They should graduate as unique individuals.
Much schoolwork is slow work. We learn to write our ABC’s over years of tedious practice. We build our math skills from addition and subtraction to multiplication tables without much excitement. If the journey goes well, we do not remember those teachers that helped us stay on task. We may not remember them, but we would not be reading newspapers and budgeting our subscription rate without them.
I tell my student teachers not to expect their students to know how much the teacher changed their lives. We can all look inside ourselves at all we have come to be, know and do—and then realize we never thanked our teachers for it. And all of those folks who eagerly explained to me how a teacher changed their life long ago; it is likely they never thanked that teacher either.
Our parents were the first teachers of us all. Most knew not to expect verbal thanks. Just watching us as children grow up had to suffice.
And for my student teachers, just seeing the “Ah, ha!” on some students faces will have to be reward enough.