Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Getting "those" stories

"So, tell me about that teacher you had. You know the one. You still remember them all these years later. Why?"

Image: Wikimedia Commons
One of the things I love to do as an educator is to ask people to tell me about that one teacher they had. I've never had anyone ask me what I mean, or have them say they didn't have any story to share.

I've discovered that every person, without exception, has a story about a teacher they remember. It could be because the teacher saw something in that person, because the teacher did something exceptional, or because the teacher was simply just terrible. The funny thing is that everyone's got a story to share.

So why do I ask? What's the point in getting people to share? I'm looking for the best ideas, so that I can shamelessly steal them. I'm looking for what inspired people. I'm trying to find out what made those teachers exceptional.

And there's no universal formula. Exceptional means something different to every person with whom I've spoken. Some felt that their teacher was amazing because he saw some hidden potential. Others have told me that they felt that their teachers were unique because they had a great sense of humour. Still more have shared that their exceptional teacher connected with them as a person, not just as a student.

And then there are the exceptionally bad teachers. The ones who yelled. The ones who showed no understanding of students' lives outside the classroom. The ones who never smiled. The ones who had terrible coffee breath.

What have I learned after doing this "research?"

I've discovered something that underlies every one of these stories. Unique teachers don't follow a set formula. There's no secret that I can follow and become the uber-teacher I want to be. Every individual has something they appreciate, but there's such a variety that I believe it is impossible to be everything to everyone. I tend to have high expectations of myself, so I try to mitigate them by thinking of the following:

  • I can't be everything to everyone. However, that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to reach each and every one of my students.
  • There will be some students I just can't reach. I will try, but I know that failure is inevitable.
  • There will be some students I can reach, and I'm going to try as hard as possible to reach them.
  • Every student is a unique individual. I need to remember to appreciate every student's positive characteristics. I may have to look a little harder sometimes in order to find them, but it's always possible.
Finally, I have one guiding principle that I try to carry with me every day.

I take my job very seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously.

This may seem odd, but I believe there's a difference. I will work hard, not because I'm obligated, but because I'm passionate. I care deeply about what I do. But I'll never shy away from laughing at myself. I can be a serious teacher, but a light-hearted one at the same time. I will try new things, and occasionally fail gloriously, but I will always enjoy doing what I do.