View from the pen of a teacher

Teach­ing is a pro­fes­sion like any other and there are peo­ple who are re­ally good at their job and there are those who should never set foot in­side a class­room.


This week I read a Face­book comment by a par­ent who was very ob­vi­ously up­set by ei­ther a teacher or teach­ers and made her opin­ion clear by stat­ing that she “hoped Karma would kick you so bad in the ass some­day, you’ll have to s### out your mouth. I only hope the stu­dents you have crushed are there when it hap­pens.”

Th­ese are an­gry, pow­er­ful words ex­press­ing a mother’s pain when one or more of her chil­dren has been “wounded” in some way. As a par­ent, a mother and a teacher I am so sad that her chil­dren ex­pe­ri­enced any of that.

I have no doubt that some of the things she men­tions that teach­ers did to her chil­dren in the class­room or to friends of her chil­dren hap­pened, be­cause when I was a stu­dent I also ex­pe­ri­enced some of that same em­bar­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing and ag­gres­sion. I re­mem­ber a math teacher I had in Grade 7 who also held up my test to the class (it was a fail­ing grade) and told the stu­dents that “this is not the mark you want to get if you want to suc­ceed.”

I re­mem­ber want­ing to slide into a hole in the floor and have her go with me. I have not for­got­ten how she made me feel and I knew then that I would and could not ever do that to some­one else. There was the teacher I had in Grade 3 who would grab me by the ear and haul me up out of my seat — and I got her again in Grade 6. I am lucky I still have two ears at­tached to my head.

Then there was the soc­cer coach of one on my chil­dren who never even let her play for one minute dur­ing a tour­na­ment be­cause he was so fo­cused on win­ning he could not see that not let­ting her be a con­tribut­ing mem­ber of that team for even one minute made her feel “less than.” He later went on to get “teacher of the year.” A lit­tle ironic, I think!

How­ever, for me as a stu­dent, there was a Ms. Bartlett in Grade 10 who en­cour­aged me to write, Mr. Fur­long and Ms. Le Shane who knew math was not my best sub­ject but guided me through to grad­u­a­tion, and Mr. Man­ning who made me a ref­eree for in­tra­mu­ral sports and helped build my con­fi­dence through his con­fi­dence in me. When I re­flect back on my school years, I re­mem­ber th­ese teach­ers who cer­tainly re­lated to me and brought out my best.

As a teacher, I worked with ad­min­is­tra­tors like Ray Noel (now re­tired), who were known to be firm but fair with teach­ers and stu­dents, and who had the best in­ter­ests of stu­dents fore­most in his ac­tions. Spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers like Sharon Tay­lor who know how to en­cour­age stu­dents to do their best work, and art teach­ers like David Trainor who en­cour­age and teach stu­dents to do more than just “draw.” Th­ese are just a few of the won­der­ful peo­ple I work with, too many to men­tion, who con­tinue to mo­ti­vate and in­spire me ev­ery­day.

Noth­ing gets done

Teach­ing is a pro­fes­sion like any other and there are peo­ple who are re­ally good at their job and there are those who should never set foot in­side a class­room. The prob­lem is, for those who do more harm than good, it is dif­fi­cult to get them out. Stu­dents rarely speak up about ver­bal or psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse they re­ceive from teach­ers and if ad­min­is­tra­tors and par­ents don’t hear about it then noth­ing gets done.

Some par­ents are even afraid if they speak up to a teacher their child will be treated even worse. I don’t mean to say that ev­ery­thing a stu­dent says is true about what hap­pens in the class­room but some­times “where there is smoke there is fire.”

I am a teacher and I love go­ing to work ev­ery day — I al­ways have, be­cause I am in­spired, mo­ti­vated and en­cour­aged by those teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors I work with who also love what they do and who re­ally, hon­estly, like kids. But, I have also worked with teach­ers who hate their jobs and it shows! The minute that I no longer like what I do, I won’t spend an­other minute in the class­room.

Great teach­ers have in­tegrity, they have a good re­la­tion­ship to their stu­dents and the sub­jects they teach, they can light a class on fire with their en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm, bring out the best in their stu­dents — not be­cause of magic or pop­u­lar­ity, they set and main­tain high ex­pec­ta­tions while be­ing flex­i­ble and pa­tient, they are creative in their ap­proach and con­nected to the stu­dents and the school com­mu­nity. And they are just good at what they do! Th­ese are the teach­ers you want teach­ing your kids.

Teach­ing is hard work but also very re­ward­ing. Over the years I have heard peo­ple out­side the teach­ing pro­fes­sion make com­ments like “they only work 10 months a year” and “those who can’t, teach.” Well, I am paid for 10 months a year and it is av­er­aged out over 12 months and in an­swer to any other ques­tions, I think the fol­low­ing from Talor Mali speaks for so many of us:

The din­ner guests were sit­ting around the ta­ble, dis­cussing life. One man, a CEO, de­cided to ex­plain the prob­lem with ed­u­ca­tion. He ar­gued: “What’s a kid go­ing to learn from some­one who de­cided his best op­tion in life was to be­come a teacher?”

He re­minded the other din­ner guests that it’s true what they say about teach­ers: “Those who can ... do. Those who can’t ... teach.”

To cor­rob­o­rate, he said to an­other guest: “You’re a teacher, Su­san,” he said. “Be hon­est. What do you make?”

Su­san, who had a rep­u­ta­tion of hon­esty and frank­ness, replied, “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a Cplus feel like a Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor and an A-mi­nus feel like a slap in the face if the stu­dent did not do his or her very best. I can make kids sit through 40 min­utes of study hall in ab­so­lute si­lence.”

“I can make par­ents trem­ble in fear when I call home.

“You want to know what I make? I make kids won­der. I make them ques­tion. I make them crit­i­cize. I make them apol­o­gize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them spell def­i­nitely beau­ti­ful, def­i­nitely beau­ti­ful, and def­i­nitely beau­ti­ful over and over and over again, un­til they will never mis­spell ei­ther one of those words again.

“I make them show all their work in math and hide it all on their fi­nal drafts in English. I make them un­der­stand that if you have the brains, then fol­low your heart ... and if some­one ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no at­ten­tion!

“You want to know what I make? I make a dif­fer­ence.

“And you? What do you make?”

Have a won­der­ful sum­mer ev­ery­one! — Michelle Cleary-Haire is a

teacher em­ployed with the Eastern School Dis­trict. She

re­sides in Har­bour Grace

Michelle Cleary-Haire

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