Always been about teachers, students

A column about education

Always been about teachers, students

This week marks the end of my career in education.

I was a teacher for nine years and an administrator (and always a teacher) for 22 more.

I consider myself to be very fortunate to have chosen a career that has allowed me and my family to live in some of the most beautiful places in North America (Peterborough, Maple Ridge, Palm Springs, and the Muskokas in Ontario).

Perhaps more importantly, I am grateful for having spent my working life in a field that has challenged and rewarded me daily, and made it a pleasure to get up and head out the door each day.

This is not to say every day has been a good one.  In fact, there have been many disappointments.  I have become emotionally attached to many students and families who have had tragedy strike them at various levels.  It is always disappointing, as a teacher, to see students who fail to achieve success; it is upsetting to see good families ripped apart at the seams by divorce; it is absolutely devastating to see students injured or killed through their own actions or the actions of others.

I have had my share of such painful moments and can assure you, have the emotional scars to bear witness to them.

But so, too, have I seen miracles. I’ve witnessed gangly, awkward, socially inept and intellectually challenged students suddenly blossom into talented, driven, creative and intellectually engaged young adults.  I’ve seen students go on from high school to become extraordinary students in university, extraordinary workers and professionals and extraordinary parents.

Naturally, I have both defended my profession from ridiculous attacks by people who know no better, and admonished my profession when I feel it has lost sight of the fact that schools are for students, not teachers and even more, when bureaucrats have consumed resources for their own agendas at the expense of resources at the classroom level. I remain indignant over the waste of money in education in general and the lack of decision-making given to principals in schools.  This drove me from public education into independent schools, complete with the guilty conscience that ensued.

I grew up in the public system and had every intention of teaching there for my career, and I would be much better off financially had I done so. But it was not the system for me.

My early experiences demonstrated that the system was too politically driven and there simply was not enough attention paid to the most important element for me in the education process – the relationship between teacher and student.  It was the “system” that seemed to warrant the most attention.

You grow and develop based on your experiences and, perhaps, I was just unlucky in my first few public education positions. I know many public educators who I respect a great deal and whose experiences have been different than mine, and I also know many educators in the private system whose experiences have not been as rewarding as mine. You have to find your own way, as a teacher, a student and a parent, into an educational option that works for you.

For now, I am grateful for the many talented and hard-working colleagues with whom I have worked, the sheer joy that comes with working with young people, even when they are a pain sometimes, and the many wonderful parents who have supported their children and the schools which they have attended with enthusiasm and energy.

None of my children will become teachers.  Having witnessed my career, they think it’s too much work and they’ve seen enough of the crazy moments to wonder what I like about it.  Still, it’s a profession in which I have taken much pride and it’s a profession which needs a new generation of dedicated and enthusiastic teachers.

I will no doubt be envious of the young person who has slipped into the tiny hole I left and is getting the opportunity to witness miracles.

Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at ghookey@yahoo.com.