There have been a number of different posts this week (in particular this one) that have made me reflect on why I became an educator. At its best the career is challenging, ever-changing, honourable, and satisfying; however, after much reading and thought, I know that the true reason I became a teacher is because of the impact that my own teachers have had on my life.
Growing up, my home situation wasn't the greatest. The details are irrelevant, but suffice it to say I was one of those students for whom school was my home. The photo above demonstrates one reason why I felt so comfortable within the walls of my high school. I knew in my heart that I meant something to the people in that building. The card above was written by my Grade 12 French teacher Mrs. Loutit, who gave it to me in class a few weeks before the end of the year. I remember being amazed that a teacher would take the time to write a personal card to a student. That card meant so much that I still have it today.
The personal effort meant a lot, but it was also what she said in the card that resonated so deeply. She wrote that she had enjoyed teaching me, and that she believed in my future. She explicitly stated that she saw strengths in me that I could not see for myself. In all honesty, I really wasn't much of a French student, but I never felt that my abilities in the subject area had any impact on my relationship with Mrs. Loutit. I guess the best way to explain it, is that I was a person she cared about who coincidentally happened to be trying to learn French.
So many years have passed since she gave me that card, and (thankfully) I am no longer the person I was in my last year of high school. As an adult I am now able to control the factors that caused pain and anxiety during my childhood. I now have the ability to change elements of my life when necessary, but as a teenager I did not have that power. Here is something I am acutely aware of as a teacher: children grow up to be adults, and those adults remember who believed in them when they were children. I once listened to Martin Brokenleg tell a powerful story of adults "singing the song for a child when the child can't sing his own". That's what many of my teachers did for me. They sang my song when I was unable. Now as an adult, I can raise my own voice.
Mrs. Loutit gave me the gift of her care and her belief in me when I was 17 years old, but her greatest gift was that now as a teacher I have a staunch certainty that what I do and say has an impact on the students I teach. I know that what I do makes a difference. The ability of a teacher to positively (or negatively) impact the life of a student is so strong as to be almost overwhelming. It is because of Mrs. Loutit that I write cards every year to graduates that I teach.
In almost 20 years, I have never told her what an impact she had on my life. I've never told her how much that simple gesture of writing a card meant, but is this not also the nature of teaching? We don't always experience the true results of our efforts in a visible or tangible way, but because of teachers like Mrs. Loutit, I am unwaveringly confident that those results exist.