Good Teachers, Bad Teachers

My name’s the teacher, that is what I call myself

And I have a lesson that I must impart on you.

It’s an old expression, but I must insist it’s true.

Jump up, look around, find yourself some fun

No sense in sitting there hating everyone.

Jethro Tull – Teacher

It’s been painful watching my child go through this term.  Why?  Because they’ve got a teacher who doesn’t give a shit.

So, obviously I’m going to keep this very general, though my guess is, should the teacher actually come across this blog, they’d recognize themselves.

But, in watching my kid struggle with their notes last night, prepping for a test, I continually found myself questioning why some people become teachers.  I even turned that spotlight on myself.  I’m not a full-time teacher, but I have been teaching for over twenty years.  Why did I do it?

I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to needing the money at the time, but that hasn’t been the issue for most of the 20+ years that I’ve taught.  So, yes, at the beginning, it may have been money, but that changed quickly.  What drew me to teaching was to emulate those teachers that moved and shaped me.  The desire to successfully break down and chunk out complex ideas into digestible bits of knowledge.  To see that student have those “a-ha!” moments.  To see something that I said become a tangible result later on.

So, yeah, totally self-serving.  But a win-win, nonetheless.

At the same time, there’s also the fun aspect.  Learning should be fun, dammit!  Learning should be engaging.  Whomever you’ve been tasked with teaching should look forward to the next lesson.  If instead they dread it, you’re doing it wrong.

And yes, I can say I had many teachers that I dreaded.  That I literally groaned when I considered entering their classroom–Smilin’ Johnny, I’m looking at YOU here–and in those classes, I did the bare minimum to get by.  They weren’t fun, they weren’t engaging and I never looked forward to the next lesson.  And that was in some subjects that I absolutely loved.  Physics.  Algebra.

Okay, yeah, I was a geek.  But seriously.  Loved the subjects.  Hated the teachers.

At the same time, I had classes with subject matters I simply despised.  French comes to mind.  But for one, bright, shining year in Grade 9, I had a teacher that made me absolutely enjoy the subject.  I looked forward to class, I actually tried my best, I worked hard.  I also had fun.

Then, along came Grade 10 and Miss Grabowski.  Funny how you can remember some teacher’s names, huh?  Grabowski hated me.  I hated her.  The classes were almost military in their precision, and in the “fun and engaging” quotient as well.  And I learned to hate French all over again.  Thanks, lady.

But I have to say, when I moved schools and went to Barry’s Bay, the quality of the teachers vastly improved.  Yes, we had the odd bad one, Smilin’ Johnny included, but overall, they were amazing.  Mr. DeLaMatter made Chemistry an absolute blast.  There’s a picture in one of my yearbooks of our class doing some crazy experiment.  And everyone’s laughing.  He would come up with some of the dopiest ways to remember complex ideas, but they worked.  And, during exams, you always knew when one of your classmates hit a certain question, because you could hear them snickering at the mnemonic that they were calling up to remember the answer.

Mr. Pepper took a nasty subject, Calculus, and while he didn’t necessarily make it fun, he did make it interesting.  Hell, he made it fascinating.  My best memory of Mr. Pepper was, at the end of Grade 13, I’d been working on a set of some sort in the high school cafeteria.  I was just actually heading out to one of the washrooms to wash the gooey papier-mache paste off my hands.  Mr. Pepper saw me, called me over and stuck out his hand.  I looked at it like it was an alien thing.  He may very well have been the first person to actually shake my hand.  I literally did not know how to respond.

So, I did the standard student response.  “…uh….”

“Tobin,” he said, a huge smile on his face.  “I just wanted to congratulate you.  Your exam mark was so good, you actually improved your mark more than anyone else in the class. You’re the most improved student this year!  I’d like to shake your hand.”

“I don’t think you actually want to do that,” I said.

“I absolutely do.” And with that, he actually grabbed my hand and shook it.  It came away dripping with goo.  And his smile never faltered, the excited look on his face never changed.  “Congratulations, Tobin.  Good job,” he said.  Then he headed off to the washroom to wash.

How many teachers would do that?

I’ve seen the same dedication from some of my kid’s teachers as well.  Mr. Medd has been amazing for my daughter and her future aspirations as a journalist.  Ms. Ewert turned my son’s year around.  We actually had to demand he get pulled from one class with a teacher who, quite frankly I believe is psychotic, to Ms. Ewert.  And we watched my son absolutely blossom after that.

Because that’s what a good teacher does.  They teach, but more than that, they inspire.  They engage.  They promote all the wonder in the world.  They show their students that wonder and get them excited about it.

Why can’t there be more teachers like that?

What’s your favourite teacher story?

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7 thoughts on “Good Teachers, Bad Teachers

  1. Grade 4, Mrs. Lethbridge. I hated public speaking, but she asked me to tell her a story about a painting I had just done in her class (I was in my unicorn phase at the time). Despite my fear the class, she made me tell the story to her – and I regaled her with this sweeping epic saga about how this unicorn had triumphed over an evil monster and made the grassy hill grow up over top of it so it would never come out and attack people again. She looked at me and said, “Some day, when you’re a famous writer, I’m going to knock at your door and say, ‘Do you remember me? I was your fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lethbridge, and I want your autograph.'” It was the second-worst year of my childhood, but she took me under her wing so well that sometimes I accidentally called her “mommy.”

    • I remember Miss Roberts in Grade 7 and 8. She was the one that gave me the bug to write. She was always so encouraging. Even more amazing? About 15-ish years later, she happened to wander into the place where I worked, recognized me by name immediately, and talked about a story I’d written that she’d wanted included in the yearbook that year, but it was just a little too late for submission (my first published piece…ripped off!). Anyway, she turned up a few days later, story in hand. All these years, not only had she kept it, but knew exactly where it was.

      Wherever you are now, Miss Roberts, I love you. You rocked as a teacher and as a person.

  2. Took a night school course in Photography, the teachers name was Tobin Elliott. In fact I was dating the teacher at the time. He failed me…but I married him anyways!!!

    True story…

    The wife

  3. You two are hilarious!!

    Mrs. Powell, grade 9 English teacher. I was so backwards and painfully shy she was able to see through that and encouraged me to write. And that’s when I found my desire to write. She didn’t put up with any crap from anyone, but she quietly and gently encouraged my writing. I thank her to this day for that.

    Ah yes, Miss Grabowski. Or should we say Grabowtobogan??? She hated Gary Harrison ever since that joke!

  4. Hmm, I had a really cool teacher at Durham College a while back. Whenever I go too long between stretches of working on my writing, I imagine what he’d say if I told him I quit, and then get back on the horse. I hear he has a wicked novel out now.

    My other favourite teacher also encouraged me to write. Dr. Greenlaw was a soft-spoken guy, but you could tell he was passionate about his work. Actually, I don’t think I ever used his title; he was just Duncan to me. I should probably feel a little bit bad for monopolizing his office hours at university. He was pretty much the first person I ever shared my poetry with (at least, the first person who wouldn’t feel obligated to tell me that it was good even if it blew chunks), and now I post poetry on the internet, and hound literature magazines for space to publish my stuff.

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