With the start of the school year, my neighbourhood bus stop is abuzz with talk of who has Mrs. So-and-So and what kind of teacher Mr. Such-and-Such is.
In a town where politicians aren’t even called by their last names, teachers are in a unique category. Partly revered, partly depersonalized; teachers just aren’t like regular people.
When I was in school, teachers were entities described by a handful of one word adjectives: strict, funny, mean, or nice. That is, until you get the teacher that stands out.
You might not realize it at the time because your frontal lobe is still busy growing, but when the scars of adolescence have healed, you might just call that person your favourite teacher.
When my daughter entered Kindergarten last year, her family and friends made a big deal about it. She thought it was because school was special, but we all knew it was consolation; the halcyon days of being the firstborn centre of the universe end when you enter school.
School is the great equalizer, but also a great homogenizer.
“Young lady, take your place between Koski and Korben, pipe down, and don’t step out of line.”
Without this culture of order, schools would be chaos. But it can also make a kid wonder whether there’s more to life than alphabetical lists. A teacher who recognizes you as an a unique individual can often be the first one that you recognize as being more than just a bossy, order-obsessed grown up.
Sophia Marnik identifies two exceptional teachers who let her be herself: her fifth grade teacher and a high school music teacher.
“[My Grade 5 teacher] could see the curious and cheeky child I was, even though I wasn’t recognized or liked by many of my peers. When I was in their classes, I didn’t feel ‘wrong.’ They accepted me for exactly who I am.”
This is not to say that good teachers let you coast on personality alone. The teachers we appreciate the most are the ones who recognize our unique aptitudes and encourage us to do better.
As Karen Wenckebach says about her high school history teacher, “I did already love history, but what was really important was that he saw a value in me that other people didn’t see.”
It’s a profound form of respect to be recognized for your strengths, and then encouraged to develop them.
The amazing thing about great teachers is that they don’t always let on that they know you have talents, they just quietly set expectations for you.
One of my most influential teachers was the Grade 10 English teacher who taught me how to write. Every assignment I handed in that year came back covered in red ink. I knew he didn’t take the time to do that with everyone’s work, but he never talked about writing. He dutifully marked up my assignments, and trusted that I would read his corrections and learn from them.
In this digital age, when one’s personal broadcast signals seldom turn off, it’s reassuring to look back on times when we were in profound periods of learning, and we didn’t even realize it because nobody was talking about it.
So happy new school year to all our favourite teachers, whatever their adjectives.