A Teacher is a Wonderful Thing

Well, it looks like we may finally be coming out of the deep and miserable freeze that was the winter of 2015. And in the lull between mid-term report cards and the final push to graduation, I find myself with a free moment to finish a piece, that, oddly enough, I began to pen from the inside in a smokey shed behind  Acadian Maple Products in Tantallon, just outside of Halifax

This particularly trying winter in Nova Scotia has not just been punctuated by record snowfalls, but also an abundance of bad tempers. Although the snow took a toll on us all,  it seems that this year’s collective grumpiness was a real boon to the education critics, and an absolute bane for teachers.

First, there was the “great snow day kerfuffle of ‘ought fifteen”, where there was a tremendous hue and cry over school closures due to bad weather. When the Minister of Education suggested that she was considering opening school on weekends or the March break to make up the time, teachers felt a bit of the wind go out of their winter weary sails.

Then there was the surprise re-ignition of the Drake University debate. When the Minister announced that teachers who had already been approved for license upgrades through taking Drake courses might now be denied, it was open season. Teachers again bore the brunt of public ire, as commentators took to the airways to question not only Drake upgrades, but upgrades in general. Another example, according to some, of those fat cat teachers milking the system.

Finally, here in Halifax,  there was the decision to re-schedule an assessment and evaluation day, originally set for Friday, March 27th, to the end of June, a decision reportedly arrived at as a means of dealing with the aforementioned “great snow day kerfuffle of ought 15”.  Although responsible for neither the decision to close schools nor for the snow, it was the teachers who were left scrambling to meet deadlines. And again, the general consensus seemed to be one of disdain for anyone who might try explain why moving that day might prove stressful, to say the least.

Well, enter a story about maple syrup.

Just before Easter, I had the chance to get involved in a small community based project within my sub division. Our Home Owners Association President had come up with the idea that a nice project for our neighborhood kids would be to tap the maple trees in our sub division. He applied for a grant, and soon a small number of us were dutifully drilling our trees and hanging our buckets. When I came to find out that CBC would be doing a story on our little initiative, I gladly offered up a tree in my yard to be tapped for the cameras.

Not only did CBC arrive on Easter Monday to film the story, but they interviewed some of the neighborhood kids about it. My daughter was one of those chosen to speak. My wife later told me that she spoke articulately and well, and that she was in front of the cameras for quite a while. (I was not there, by the way. Easter Monday saw me at school running a rehearsal for this year’s school play, but I digress). Later on that evening, after calling everyone we could possibly think of, we gathered as a family around the television set to watch the piece, and I am here to tell you, this proud papa darn near burst.

But it was really the events of the next day that inspired me to start to pen this piece from a smokey shed in Tantallon, where I was dutifully taking my turn boiling down maple sap, my head shrouded in a maple flavored mist.

On Tuesday, when my wife and I gathered our daughter up from school, we asked her how her day had been, and if anyone had seen her on TV. Of course, being who she is, my daughter had not said much about the interview to her friends, other than to ask a few of her closest if they had seen it. A few teachers spoke to her about it, but it was really after lunch that the  magic happened.

You see, after lunch my daughter’s teacher told her class that they were going to be watching something  from CBC. My daughter did not realize that it was going to be her interview until “Madame” pressed play. (At least, this is the way my daughter tells it). Sure enough, her teacher showed the entire piece, interview and all, to the class. Then, her teacher showed the kids a few pictures of the maple sugar plant, and the class began to talk about maple syrup. After the pictures, one of the children raised his hand and asked  how they get from sap to syrup. True to form,  Madame dutifully looked up a video and before long the kids were learning all about maple syrup production in Nova Scotia.

Later on that evening, my wife was out for groceries. She ran into another parent who spoke about how excited her own daughter had been.  She had apparently come home from school  spouting facts and figures about the maple syrup industry, bursting to tell her mom that her friend had been on TV.

That’s what we call a successful lesson. And there is a message in it for us all.

I’m not sure that  a question about maple syrup will ever appear on a standardized test. Nor do I believe that my daughter will ever work a sugar bush. But, just after Easter, a fairly non-assuming, lovely and kind teacher took the time to do a very kind and wonderful thing. In the face of report cards and standardized test scores and snow days and the lot. In the face of growing demands and shrinking resources. In the face of overwhelming pressure to do better and a perception from some that we do nothing at all, a teacher spent some of her time and her energy to seize a teachable moment.

And in doing so, she made one particular child feel pretty special.

And for that, I would like to say “Thanks.”

Teaching is, at its very heart, a profession of altruism. It is also a profession where everything from our license credentialing to our personal integrity is regularly called into question in the most public of forums. Yet, everyday, despite the noise, and the comments, and the snow, folks just like “Madame” put it all aside and do remarkable things for kids.

In my house, we now hold an image in our minds of a wonderful moment in our child’s life that was accentuated and celebrated by a kind and caring teacher. And that image will be with our family long after we have eaten our very last plate of pancakes and maple syrup.

A teacher can indeed be a wonderful thing. It would be nice if, every once in a while, more folks took the time to tell them so.



Filed under Education Policy, Educational commentary, Public education, Quality education, Report cards, Teacher autonomy

4 responses to “A Teacher is a Wonderful Thing

  1. Sonya MacKinnon

    This is one of my favourite columns that you’ve written Grant because it gets at the heart of what we do and why we do it. These are the kinds of pieces many people need to read before they judge our profession. Good job!

  2. Tracy Acker

    I agree! Well done Grant!

  3. Leanne Carter

    Loved this read. Your daughter will remember that teacher more than any test score she receives.

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