Confessions of a former high school teacher
Students, teachers, parents — you get all kinds, notes Pierre Home-Douglas.
After 20 years of teaching high school and CEGEP, I retired at the end of June 2017. Here are a few random observations for the start of the new school year, gleaned from my experiences in the classroom.
Students: Kids are kids. I have taught some whom I will never forget: intelligent, caring, well-mannered people. Too many of them seem to deal with a level of anxiety I don’t recall from my own childhood. Maybe that’s the result of a world that is changing at an inexorably hectic pace and the effects of globalization and competitiveness that make getting into CEGEP/university/the workforce tougher than ever.
Then there are those students who show a lack of respect that would shock the average parent if he or she audited a class today. Being told to f-off? Back when I went to high school in the early 1970s, the worst badass kid wouldn’t have muttered such a thought.
I’ve had more than a few F-bombs directed my way and other forms of verbal abuse.
You wish the perpetrators could be sent off to boot camp for six months to learn some manners and respect — a place where Mommy and Daddy couldn’t rescue them and ask what you did to provoke their child.
This is part of an increasing sense of entitlement and egocentricity that would seem almost acceptable from a five-year-old. It’s much less endearing coming from a 16or 17-year-old.
Teachers: I’ve been impressed by what a great job most of them do. Sure, there are some who are uninspiring, jaded and obviously in the wrong profession, but most teachers work hard to do a good job.
Despite the conventional wisdom, the best teachers are not found at the elite public schools. Cream off the top students and they will succeed no matter who is teaching them. On the other hand, try teaching a class of 32 kids with widely differing abilities and various learning disabilities — I had one class with five students with serious learning/psychological issues — and see how well you fare.
Parents: I’ve met some wonderful parents who struggle to ensure that their child does as well as possible. But I’ve also met more than a few who want to blame the teacher when their child is floundering.
If a student didn’t hand in an assignment, I was expected to beg, cajole or wheedle the work from them, including phoning and emailing parents. That seems like poor preparation for the world that awaits them, where a boss will be far less understanding.
Administrators: One of the toughest jobs you can imagine. You’re part psychologist, part social worker, part drill sergeant, part labour negotiator and part public relations manager. You need to be both flexible and assertive. You have to have a vision of where your school is going, as well as be up to date on the best pedagogical practices.
And then you have to deal not only with the people in the school — sometimes 100plus staff members and more than 1,000 students — but those outside as well: school boards that want to cover their backsides and parents who can make your job even more difficult.
A group of parents on the council of commissioners of my old school, Laurier Senior High School, decided that we should amalgamate with Laval Liberty High School, forming a mega-school of 1,700 students: Laval Senior Academy. No coherent rationale was ever provided for the move. The so-called consultation period was a farce. Only four of the more than dozen commissioners had any background in education.
Of course, as most of us suspected, the result was an unwieldy, difficult-to-manage behemoth. Thanks to those commissioners, most of whom have long since vanished, administrators — and teachers — are stuck with a challenging situation that doesn’t promise to get better anytime soon.
Pierre Home-Douglas is a happily retired teacher who now spends his spare time writing, reading, auditing a university class, woodworking and travelling.