Con­fes­sions of a for­mer high school teacher

Stu­dents, teach­ers, par­ents — you get all kinds, notes Pierre Home-Dou­glas.

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION -

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.

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