For those not in the know, today is World Teachers’ Day, a day set aside to honour and celebrate teachers. And while I’m not up on all of the official World Teachers’ Day rules (are there rules?), my guess is that a teacher is used to describe not only the profession of the same name, but also anyone in our lives that has taught us something. It could be your grade 8 teacher who taught you a new-found appreciation of books by introducing you to the Lord of the Rings series (thanks Miss Gillies), or perhaps the grade 6 teacher who insisted that you use the word yes and not yeah because yeah sounds like something a donkey would say (so were you actually calling me a jack-ass Mrs. Lewin? Well played. Well played indeed.)
Anyway, I’ve been rather fortunate over the years to have some rather excellent teachers. Perhaps this was some form of luck, or the planets aligning just-so, but in reality it’s probably related to having been in school for so damn long, and maybe, just maybe, there really are a lot of good teachers out there. Regardless the reason, my extended/ongoing education, and experience both as a student and as an assistant professor have provided me a bit of insight into what makes a good teacher. It’s clearly not just a mastery of the subject. Anyone can get up in front of an audience and throw facts and figures at them. No, it’s so much more than that. Teaching requires passion.
Honestly, passion plays such an important role in the learning process. I mean, how am I supposed to get excited or care about a particular topic if the person presenting doesn’t seem to give a rats-ass themselves? Unless the topic being presented is something that I’ve been passionate about a priori, a dull performance isn’t going to make me want to know/understand/integrate the information being dropped in my lap. A lack of passion is often a deal breaker in relationships and the student-teacher relationship is no exception. If one is passionate about what they are studying, that passion becomes contagious. The student opens to the ideas, and true learning can occur. Ideas start flying, and the next thing you know a course becomes more than just facts and figures; it becomes something tangible and exciting; a set of connections and ideas that stoke the imagination and leave the students wanting to know more.
I think this is as true within the profession of teaching as it is outside. Take a minute to think of some of the people in your life that have positively influenced you; those that have taught you something that you now hold dear to your heart. Ask yourself, why did that particular person leave a mark? Was it a collection of bullet points that left you thinking about their words? Or was it how they passed on their knowledge; how they engaged you; how they made their experience a living, tangible lesson? I’m going to bet it was the latter.
Anyway, as I wrote earlier in this post, I’ve been fortunate to have some most excellent teachers in my life. Some have been more influential than others. Some I have strived to emulate in my current position because I know how amazing they really are; how many lives they’ve touched; the difference their work makes. While I’ll offer a blanket thank you to all of them, I really feel the need to point out a few names in particular.
First and foremost, I have to mention my Grade 6 teacher – Mrs. Annette Lewin. When I first met her, I did not think that I would like her. She was stern, and demanding, and she insisted that I not say anything that sounds like something a donkey would say. I’ve never forgotten that, and while I probably sound like a bigger donkey now than I did when I was in Grade 6, she pushed me to succeed in ways that very few other people have ever done. Where other teachers might just give me a great mark, she’d give me a good mark, and then ask me for extra. I probably have her to thank for my workaholism.
When I headed to university, I met several amazing professors. While I won’t mention every awesome prof that I have had, I feel the need to mention Pal Fischer, Gerarda Darlington, Herb Kunze, and Jack Weiner. These four professors have taught me so much, I can’t even begin to explain it. What I can say, is that I am the man I am today because of what these people have taught me, and continue to teach me. Thank you all for being passionate about your work, and for demanding the best of me. I am forever in your debts.
Anyway, if you can, take the time today to think about the people who have influenced you. If possible, let them know.
Happy Teachers’ Day all y’all.