Boldly in praise of teachers

Mark Reid, teacher at Vancouver Tech School shortlisted for Global Teacher Prize

Teachers polarize. Either you run into people who think teachers are overpaid, lazy and unfairly demanding about their sweet gigs, or you run into smart people.

It’s true that you don’t need a PhD to be a teacher of kids from K-12. But neither do you to be an entrepreneur or yearbook rep, yet they’re pulling into your school parking lots in luxury vehicles. And in this industry, remarkably, we’ve run into yearbook reps with little but criticism to offer about “stupid” and “lazy” teachers. True, we haven’t been in the industry for twenty years, but we’ve yet to run into these sorts of teachers. (Okay, one.) (Not you, we promise.) Teachers are a big part of why we love our work. We share some values in common:

  • We love kids.
  • We are pretty nerdy for education and new technology and learning strategies.
  • We are pro-progress.

As a student growing up in Northern Ontario, I ran into teachers who were lacklustre at best but couldn’t be fired and it was frustrating. But most teachers were my salvation, the only adults in my life who ever encouraged me toward academia.

When I was in grade two, I thought Ms. Mitchell was the princess of Canada. We’ve been Facebook friends for a few years where she cutely makes comments on photos and posts about how I was just the same in grade two. Only parents remember what you were like in grade two. And, some great teachers.

Mr. Clark took me under his wing in grade five with such Christian kindness and generosity that I had to reach out in my 30s, tracking him down through Internet magic. Would I have known at that age that I was valuable without Mr. Clark’s care toward me, without him unapologetically making me his teacher’s pet? I’m not sure.

Miss Campbell went above and beyond the call of her job by arranging to drive me two hours east to a conference where I won a publication in a provincial contest, for a truly awful poem I wrote (of which I can give a dramatic reading in exchange for a piece of cheesecake). I admired her more than any woman I knew.

In Grade 8, the crusty and hilarious Dawn Nyman blew my mind by minimizing the accomplishment of a high school diploma, encouraging us towards Masters and Doctoral degrees. This was the first I had heard of such a thing. I would love to tell her thank you.

In grade nine, Ms. Penner was so important to me that I teared up to find her living now in Victoria and practically demanded that she let us take her to dinner. Our whole family had a wonderful time at Spinnakers in Victoria with her and her wife, recounting memories. And even though I owed her so much for making being gay feel okay to me as a youth, for setting high standards in her class, for being stern but good humoured, for being the kind of woman I wanted to be, she wouldn’t even let us pay for the tip.

When I was living on my own at age 16, unable to afford to get my cat spayed when she was keeping me up at night with her meowing, Ms. Holgate paid my hefty vet bill and also gave me her old Electrolux because I didn’t have a vacuum cleaner.

Ms. Dick, my high school piano teacher, coached my singing through countless rounds of I Feel Pretty on her own time, for my audition for the city production of West Side Story. I landed a role as a Jet girl. Thanks, Ms. Dick!

Ms. Schoas broke my heart by dying early of colon cancer. She sent me letters well after graduation, pushing me toward writing poetry and to higher learning.

Ms. Chow sent a gift for my first baby. Her teaching of DNA made biology a joy. I adored her to bits and have been trying to track her down again for years. (Ms. Susan Chow, if you stumble upon this, please report to the office.)

Teachers are more than government employees with summers off and endless streams of homework to mark. They are parents to children who have none. They are sometimes the first to notice abuse taking place in children’s homes. They are counsellors, leaders, coaches. If teachers seem to have trouble caring passionately about yearbook layouts, perhaps they are exhausted from caring about so many kids who struggle. After all, no one but Ms. Holgate and I knew she was busy taking my cat to the vet.

For some kids, teachers are the only reason they make it through each school day, the only reason they strive for good grades. My teachers knew me better than I knew myself. My teachers are why I was the first person on both sides of my family to attend university.

And it’s not just me. Most people have a story of a teacher who helped make them who they are today. I have several times teared up as I thanked my children’s teachers for their work that year, as they do my job for me. Because much like being a quality stay-at-home parent in a country that does not adequately value full-time parenting, teaching is one of the hardest jobs in Canada to do well.

Teachers, we honour your role and we are so excited to work with you. We hope that you’re as excited as we are to raise the level of teaching in Yearbook classes. Together, we can literally change the courses of some kids’ lives.


(Language warning: Video uses word at the end that might offend some people.)

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