Parents of school-aged children have a unique perspective on teachers.
Most parents are far removed from the days sitting in classrooms listening to lessons. Regardless how they view their own experience, their interest in education takes new emphasis once their kids begin school.
Are the children getting good instruction, are they enjoying learning and making progress? All are ongoing concerns parents have as the school years roll by.
Teachers, and the work they do on a daily basis, are a central part of a positive answer to those questions and more.
Mount Douglas secondary parents advisory council president Wendy Joyce, a public school parent since 2000, knows well that some teachers have more impact than others on how our children do in school and how they feel about time spent there.
“When I look at all the teachers we’ve encountered over the years, it’s not necessarily about who’s got the most experience, but more about who can inspire the kids, who’s engaging and who can make that connection with kids,” she says.
Taking time to get to know a student and what makes them tick is also a key ingredient to making a difference, she adds.
She recalls that her son’s Grade 5 teacher took an interest in him and enjoyed reading his writing, but was also aware he had a younger sister. Upon being shown a colourful painting by the Grade 2 sibling, the teacher bought a matte for the work and quietly gave it to the brother, saying the painting would look nice framed.
Fast forward eight years to today. Having heard her daughter remark how she is enjoying social studies class for the first time, Joyce gained a glimpse into why, during a parent-teacher interview.
The teacher told Joyce that he doesn’t focus primarily on marks, but is also concerned whether his students are stressed out about school or life in general, or have anxiety about pending exams.
“It showed me that he’s taking a real interest in kids’ well-being,” she says. “They have a lot of time set aside in class to talk about things and debate things, or he talks about his own experiences, to show them he’s also a human being.”
Such a holistic approach seems to get the best out of students, who feel they are special or that they matter, Joyce says.
John Bird, president of the Victoria Confederation of PACs, has been around local schools for 26 years and has had six children of his own come through the system.
To his experience, technology has played a part in children being more knowledgable when they get to school these days.
“We’re moving from simply giving them information to teaching them how to process information,” he says.
The best teachers get students excited about learning, he says, instead of trying to make them conform. Bird uses an analogy from his basketball coaching experience as an example.
“We’re coaching kids at a younger age to be more dynamic players than we used to. They know more about the game by the time they (start playing),” he says. “The youngest kids have it already and the best teachers make sure they don’t dampen it.”
Joyce has heard various times from fellow parents over the years how “that teacher just does not get my kid.”
She doubts anyone could go through the entire K-12 with their child and not encountering both types of teacher.
She lights up when talking about running into teachers her children have had in past who ask about them, their unique interests and the direction they appeared to be taking in prior years.
That kind of connection, she says – clearly they were paying close attention to their students at the time – can’t help but have an impact on children down the road.
“That says to them, ‘I’m a special individual to this person, I’m important,’” Joyce says. “All those things that really make a difference.”