In my paid working life I was an educator. I was really lucky in my career in that what and who I taught was extremely varied. I started out as a primary teacher and I taught Grade 1 in my first year; two years later, I taught most of the same kids in Grade 3 and was so thankful for the opportunity to right every wrong I had done as an inexperienced new teacher. At the end of my first year teaching I went back to university and took a fifth year so I could qualify to teach English in secondary school (English had been my major). I have always thought that if I could teach Lit. 12 to 6 year olds I would be totally happy. I think that age would love stories such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Beowulf,” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” On second thought, maybe not–some of them could be completely traumatized for the rest of their lives.
In my 30 years of teaching, I taught just about every age and grade group, and, as I was a school counsellor for many years, I also dealt on a different level with so many different kids. Close to the end of my career, I had the position of Faculty Associate for Simon Fraser University, so for 6 years I taught and supervised student teachers. I guess my career ran the gamut of the education system as I also participated on an English curriculum committee at the provincial level. For me, though, there was nothing as satisfying as the classroom experience.
I remember so many kids and experiences from those years of teaching, the great, the good and the not-so-good but I would way rather concentrate on the good. I had one student teacher who was amazing. It was easy to tell when I observed her first lesson that she was made for teaching but, with that, came the worry that she would put so much of herself into her teaching life, that she would be a prime candidate for burnout. One particular lesson that I observed is etched in my memory.
She was teaching a Grade 7 french class. it was almost the end of the last period on a Friday so it wasn’t the easiest time of day and the group she was dealing with were definitely not the easiest bunch of students. I sat in the back of the classroom in a desk with my notes in front of me, jotting down my observations. How many times she said “gonna,” whose hands she responded to, what was going on in the class behind her back. In this lesson, she was teaching french vocabulary associated with family and she had the students in groups of three working on collages. They were looking through magazines, cutting, pasting and labelling in french all the pictures they found which would illustrate family concepts. Directly in front of me sat a group of 3 boys having a hilarious time. Their work spaces and the floor around them were covered in paper and discarded pictures and magazines they had finished with. It was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring.
“Okay,” I said to myself, “this is going to be interesting. I wonder how she is going to deal with this situation.”
At that moment she was making her final rounds of the classroom, stopping here and there, encouraging students, chatting with them and looking at what the groups had produced. She made her way to the boys in front of me and I thought, “Ha, here it comes.”
She stopped, looked at the boys and said in a totally conversational tone of voice, “You guys have made quite a mess and I’m sure you’re not going to leave it for me to clean up,” and passed on to the next group. You should have seen them scramble to get everything cleaned up before the bell rang. I couldn’t help considering, as a teacher, how would I have dealt with that sort of situation. I’m afraid I would have reacted totally differently; I wouldn’t have so calmly and positively encouraged them to clean up, I would probably have ordered them to do it and, by the end of the day, they would have been mad at me and I would have been frustrated with them.
I realized that day that the most important lessons we learn are varied and come from all different experiences and we have to be open to them. I will never forget what I learned that day in that classroom. Thanks, Michelle.