In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a few of the teachers who made a lasting positive impression on my life as a young student. And I want to reflect on what features they all share, what made them all have such a huge impact on my educational development.
My favorite teacher in elementary school was Mrs. Cummings. She said funny words like tiki-boo, told us stories of growing up in Scotland, and read Charlotte’s Web, giving Templeton the Rat a (best to my memory) Cockney accent. I had her in both Grade 3 and 5 and she was my first English teacher, responsible for making sure that a bunch of kids who had just spent their first three years of school entirely in French could read and write in English, too. She taught us cursive writing and coming into her class represented the time when we could finally use a pen to write.
Mme. Vasile comes a close second and she was my favorite teacher in French. A drill sergeant, I had her in Grades 4 and 6. We used to have weekly lists of words that we needed to know how to spell, their definitions, what part-of-speech they were, and, if they were verbs, how to conjugate them in up to seven different tenses. I knew more French grammar coming out of Grade 6 than I ever knew again. She also taught us art and while we sat doing our projects, she would tell us stories about her dogs. Her car, a big American boat of a car, maroon, was always the first one in the parking lot in the morning, after the janitor.
In (what would be considered) middle school and high school, my favorite teachers were two math teachers, Mrs. Pasquale and Mrs. Ryan. Mrs. Pasquale used to let us have “Bad-Joke Fridays” is her class was the last class of the day on a Friday. She taught us how to do math competitions, teaching us tricks and plays to do math faster and more efficiently. And, she loved Monty Python. Mrs. Ryan was responsible for teaching us trigonometry. She had a chant that she taught us in order for us to remember the values of sign, cosign and tangent. She would have us march down the halls, chanting. She was another dog lover, and told us stories about how she became a math teacher because she was absolutely hopeless at physics.
My other favorite teacher in high school wasn’t actually one of my teachers, but my debating coach, Mr. Y (I can’t for the life of me remember how to spell his last name). He was a history teacher, and he had been away for a number of years to work on his PhD and a CBC documentary on World War Two. He, among other things, drew the maps for the program and at one point, described a battle on camera while standing in the field in France where the battle had taken place. He also shared a love for Monty Python and Star Trek: TNG. He brought us to debates, coached our team, put up with our ridiculousness, and taught me how to make an argument.
In college, I had another favorite math teacher, Mme. Desrochers. I had her for three of my four required math classes, including two levels of Calculus. She was excellent at explaining the concepts we needed to learn, made our classwork and homework relevant to what we needed to know for our exams, and was particularly beloved by students who had previously only studied in French because she took the time to explain and to translate terms. She also loved Monet.
Finally, in university (there’s a difference in Quebec), my favorite teacher was Anne Scowcroft. She was “just” an adjunct, but she was by far the most demanding and most rewarding teacher I had. She was the one who taught me about editing and rewriting, about never settling in my writing, and how to present my writing (and myself) professionally. We all wanted to earn our grade from her, to impress her. She was a local writer who made her living doing freelance, translating and teaching. She ran a small writer’s circle, wrote poetry and homeschooled her children.
All of these teachers share a number of characteristics: they were demanding but always worked with us so we could meet those demands; they made whatever subject they were teaching come alive, made it relevant and/or interesting and exciting; they were organized and consistent in their approach to teaching their subject; they were passionate about what they taught; and, they brought themselves into the classroom.
I think that that’s the one thing that sticks out the most for me about all of these teachers: they allowed themselves to be human. They shared parts of themselves with us, what they loved outside of the classroom, outside of their subject area. Their passion about math or reading or writing or history came through to me, but it was wonderful to hear them be just as passionate about life outside of the classroom. I’m not sure why. Was I able to more easily relate to them? Did it inspire me because I shared their varied passions, but also understood how people could misunderstand that passion (I loved swimming – no one else did)?
Passion and humanity. Consistency and high standards. Dedication and willingness to help. These are the qualities I aspire to posses as an educator. And I thank these teachers, who will probably never read this blog, for inspiring me to become who I am today.