Heather Smith
When I was in grade six my evil math teacher thumb-tacked my math test up in the highest traffic area of the school – the hallway. She wrote on my test in big, red letters: “This is Heather's work”. Apparently the mid-nineties score did not impress this woman. What did impress her, and not in a good way, was the way in which my equations were written – somewhat untidily. A quiet word on the matter would just not do for this uptight, power hungry, polyester slacks wearing schoolmarm. No, I needed to be taught that good marks were not enough … I needed to realize the importance of presentation … and what better way to teach me this lesson than to post my private test sheet with its blotchy eraser marks and slanted-up-the-page equations for the viewing pleasure of the entire school population. The humiliation tactic was in full effect … until my father showed up and, quite rightly, demanded it be taken down.

My teacher’s pathetic attempt at teaching me a lesson failed. I did not learn to be neat and tidy with my math work. Instead, I learned to be afraid of my teachers. I learned to second guess everything I ever handed in, wondering if it would ever be good enough. I also learned to never raise my hand to answer a question, offer an opinion, or share an idea … because if I said something wrong or stupid who knew how the teacher would react? Another humiliation tactic?

How many teachers does it take to screw up a child? Only one I’m afraid. One teacher has the power to suck every ounce of self esteem out of a child, sometimes with one swift move.

Thankfully my children will never have such a demeaning experience. Why? Because teachers today understand the importance of building up self esteem not squashing it. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all teachers of yesteryear were like my demented grade six math teacher – I am sure there were some real gems out there somewhere – I just never had the pleasure of knowing one.

I recently found my old report cards. How different they are from the ones I find myself reading three times a year now that I have two school age children (grades 4 and 6). The comments in my old report cards are bland, formulaic, and generic. Heather is progressing quite favorably. Heather’s work is satisfactory, Heather needs extra help in writing. These types of comments give no real feedback. They gave no indication as to what kind of a learner I was. Why might I need extra help with writing? How could I improve?

Here is a line from the comments section of my son’s report card: - integrates learning from various subjects and effectively uses information, - has made great gains with regards to taking risks during class discussions.

These comments are insightful, enlightening and useful. The teacher that wrote these comments obviously took the time to think about my son as an individual and thought to write more than “he’s progressing quite favourably” before robotically moving on to the next report. There are often other meaty tidbits included in my children’s reports as well. For example, if there’s been a loss of focus in a certain area, an explanation as to why that may be the case is provided so that we can find a way to help him/her get back on track.

My kids trust their teachers and, what’s more, they like them. My daughter ends each and every school day with her arms wrapped around her teacher. The only thing I would have wrapped around my grade six math teacher is my hands around her neck.

Teachers these days seem to really want their students to do well, not only in school but in life. There is also a focus on building self esteem. An example: my son is not a sporty kid. Let’s just say that gym class is not the highlight of his day. Last year, during summer vacation, he received a card in the mail with some reassuring words from his former grade five teacher. She wrote: You’ll find out later that your talents in life as an adult rarely have anything to do with how good you were at sports in school. These words meant a lot to my son … and to me … wow, a note from a teacher that’s not scrawled viciously across the paper in red pen … how novel.

It could be argued that today’s kids are mollycoddled by their teachers, too easily given positive reinforcement … but I’d take a pat on the back over a smack on the head with a grade eight history book for “daydreaming” any day. (It's called concentrating, Mr. Evoy!)

Anyway, I am so over my school experiences. Really, I am. I like to think I did well in both school and life, in spite of my teachers. My children? They’ll do well in both school and life too, with the help of their teachers ... because when you genuinely want someone to do well, your influence on them, without question, will be positive and long lasting.
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5 Responses
  1. CLB Says:

    Oh Mr.Evoy...he smacked me in the head with the history book as well. It's no wonder I always hated school.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Today's teachers...ask me about my daughter's teacher who gave her a fairly large project to do over the holidays to be handed in today..her teacher probably had Mr. Evoy.

  3. Aunt Nancis Says:

    Hmmm, no problems with Mr. Evoy. But my grade six teacher - Mrs. Vaughan - hated me. I spent grade six in the principal's office explaining what was going on and why my parents were always at the school. Too much stress. Ended up with stomach pains and many fun trips to the Janeway (NOT)!

  4. A project? Over Christmas? Insanity!

  5. Lisa TS Says:

    It is insane. My daughter, however, dutifully finished it without complaint. Go figure.

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