What Makes A Teacher Influential

I have been asked to guest on CBC’s Maritime Noon show today talking about influential teachers.  They gave me a few questions in preparation for the interview which I have written out below for those who will be unable to listen in.  Thanks again everyone for your support!  Here is the link where you can listen in!

What makes a great teacher (qualities, maybe a personal example or two.)

Some things that make a great teacher are compassion (the ability to feel for the children with whom we work, putting a bit of ourselves into their shoes- that feeling of empathy that results), kindness (in general, being a caring person with a belief in the good in people), availability (being there for your students when they need you- to talk to them, to listen to them, to support them, to encourage them), humility (realizing yourself that you are not perfect and then allowing your students to see those imperfections- not having all the answers, not always being right, accepting your limitations and embracing your frailties), thoughtfulness (finding ways to do little things for the students that make a big difference), passion (in your subject matter, in people and in the life you lead). These are a few of the qualities that make a great teacher.

In my life, I have had many great teachers- traditional teachers as well as those who I would consider just as influential who did not hold a B.Ed. It’s important to remember that teachers can be anyone who is willing to invest in the life of another person for the purpose of that person’s growth and development. Sometimes my greatest teachers are the students themselves for they remind me of why I am here- they ground me in the here and now. I have learned some of my hardest lessons about what it is to be a teachers from my students. And we cannot forget the absolutely most important teacher that every child will have- their parent or guardian- the adult person in their life who is there for them in their life to support them. I have written about this on my blog- that parents are the most important, influential teachers that students will ever have. That being said, in a traditional sense, yes: there are many, many influential teachers out there in our school systems who make a direct impact on children and young people’s lives. I have had some, and I know many, many whom I work alongside as a teacher in the system.

I often say that my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Jenereaux was one of the most influential teachers in my life because she was my first formal teacher and she taught me how to read and write, a gift that has opened the world to me. From there, the teachers I remember best were those who brought personality into the classroom and gave us a glimpse into their humanity.

Why does it matter that teachers strive for greatness (what is their impact?)

Teachers need to strive for greatnes. Why choose to do anything less? Striving for greatness does not necessarily mean being the best on a grander scale, the most accomplished teacher in the building- rather, I think it means making a difference in little ways that end up adding up to making a huge impact. I am reading a book right now called Whole Child Education by John P. Miller and this quote by novelist David Duncan in the book caught my eye recently:

“When small things are done with love it’s not a flawed you and me who does them: it’s love. I have no faith in any political party, left, right, or centrist. I have boundless faith in love. In keeping with this faith, the only spiritually responsible way I know to be a citizen, artiist, or activist (and I would insert the word TEACHER here) in these strange times is by giving little or no thought to ‘great things’ such as saving the planet, achieving world peace, or stopping neocon greed. Great things tend to be undoable things. Whereas small things, lovingly done, are always within our reach.”

I believe that this is the joy of teachers: to do small things that make a difference in our students lives.   In the words of Aesop, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  I think this would clearly be the vision of a great teacher.

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On Being a Learner

Teacher. One who influences another in their growth and development as a multi-faceted person. That we can be influential in this endeavor is an amazing bonus. Those teachers with influence are said to be difference makers. And it doesn’t take a B.Ed to be one either.

I have been thinking about that word ‘teacher’ for a while now, wondering what a teacher really is. Who a teacher is. What they do. And how one goes about becoming one. How one becomes influential as one. How a teacher can really make a difference. And in thinking about such, I think I might have found a few answers to my many questions today. And by that I mean, I was taught a few things by a few students of mine today. They- that is MY STUDENTS: they are, and continue to be, some of my greatest teachers.

Here’s why.

It is our very last day of regular classes, and I am reviewing. I am trying to use the last moments of kindergarten to the maximum of my ability. We do our morning routine, three poems and two books. This, all accomplished before first snack of the day. And then, after recess I start in on the math lesson.

It’s going along terrifically.

When from out of nowhere, I hear the fateful words: “I’m bored.” As in, this math lesson you are teaching me, Mrs.G., it is boooooring. I am a little thrown off by this. This word: boring. I really haven’t heard this word a whole lot this year as we keep a pretty frantic pace here in KA all the live long day. There really is no time to be bored in kindergarten, tbh. In fact, I rarely hear those words. But today, they ring loud and clear.

Booooring.

“This is boring,” he says again, shrugging his shoulders meaningfully in my direction. I explain calmly that we are playing games- that this should be FUN. F.U.N. To no avail. He is not convinced, and he shows me with every fibre of his being. This is NOT fun.

So there.

Meanwhile, I focus my attention on another student who is struggling with these fun games I have planned. I patiently explain to her what I am looking for, but after several failed attempts at making myself clear- along with a bored student or two waiting in the wings and the one I am working with nearly in tears: I can feel frustration also rising in me. This isn’t working out as I planned it. As I thought it would.

This lesson isn’t flying. (The fun and games are now over…)

Sometimes, it is in humility that we learn our greatest lessons. It is when we are humbled to the point of being brought down low – taken down to a place where our ego can’t get the credit any longer. It is then that we find what we’ve been looking for. When we find answers to our bigger questions.

But sometimes it takes time to become aware of this important realization. It takes going through the waters to find dry land.

I wish I could say that I stopped the lesson immediately and switched gears- I didn’t. I kept plodding on. And I did so until something broke. And it was that moment of brokenness that made me realize- I am not here to fix problems, to make everything perfect. I am not here to help children reach perfection, to push them farther than they are ready to go: I am here to support them in their journey and walk beside them as they travel. I am here to learn from them- learn what it is to be a beginning learner. What that feels like to be a five-year old learner- what it feels like to be tired, frustrated, hungry and sad. What it feels like to be bored. And then, I am here to figure out how those emotions affect the person each of my students bring with them to class each and every day. So that they can learn better.

And so that I can learn better too.

That is, so that I can learn to be a better listener, a better empathizer, a better caregiver. So that I can learn when to nudge and when to pull back. So that I can learn when I need to support and when I need to release. So that I can learn how to accept and let go the things I cannot change. But also learn how to graciously and lovingly embrace the things I can.

This afternoon, I made a purposeful, intentional and deliberate decision: to be mindful of my students. To attend to them as they talked and played. To allow them to be themselves. And I found that in focusing my energy on my own learning, I was a happier teacher in that time frame then when I was trying so hard to accomplish my goals and outcomes. I was more at peace.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be focused and organized, doing what it is that needs to be done- but it is a cautionary warning. We must not let our individual agendas stand in the way of our all important learning. Learning which often happens when we are least expecting it to occur.

At least, that’s the way it has been for me today. Unexpected nuggets of wisdom from the little blessings in my life.

And I am still learning.