My enemy

When you’ve been at this job for a couple decades you get a sense of what makes a difference in students’ lives.

You can’t help it. You run into them in the grocery store, the rink, your favorite restaurant.

Kids that you taught so long ago you can’t remember when it was, but you know their faces and you remember their stories,

And they will tell you why you made a difference and what they remember most about you.

About you.

Not the lesson you taught, but the experience they had; the relationship that allowed them to connect with learning.

The thing is: it’s never the lesson, the text book or the test or the mark.

More often than not it is the play they acted in or the day you set the curriculum aside to make sense of their world.

Maybe it’s the games that you played that allowed trust to grow or perhaps it’s the time they got frustrated because you wouldn’t stop pushing them to reach higher.

These are the things that you value when you look back on your career.

This is the wake of your efforts and though you seldom admit it aloud, this is the change you have effected.

It is why you became a teacher.

There is no column in Powerschool that reflects the feedback you get ten years down the road,

No comment box that indicates that the students grew because you cared,

And no special score that shows their passion was ignited because of what you brought to your classroom, afterschool activity and hallway side-chat.

Those moments – as transformative as they are – are not valued by the machine that measures discrete chunks and steps.

That same machine that draws us away from what is truly magical.

The same one that is fueled by stealing our time, our effort,

And the waning traces of our passion.

I have never used a system of measuring as powerful as a short conversation,

Nor one as effective as an encouraging lunch-time extra help session,

Nor as liberating as an hour coaching students in an activity that provides them the opportunity to believe in themselves.

I have always taught the outcomes but I have never let them get in the way of something more important.

When you’ve been at this job for a couple decades you get a sense of what makes a difference in students’ lives.

The thing that interferes with that is my enemy.


4 thoughts on “My enemy

  1. So true….and things really have changed fast in last 20 years. Nowadays I go home feeling less like I made a difference and more thankful I survived. So glad teachers are finally getting a voice. Let’s keep making ourselves heard so we can get back to what we love about teaching…touching lives


  2. I was a full time teacher for 31 years and have been retired for 10. What you describe so articulately and sensitively was, indeed, the magic of teaching. The change, for me, started when the report cards were changed and we had only a check list, ‘learner profile’ I think it was called, and we were not allow to speak anecdotally on attitude, behavior and work habits, all of which impacted directly on a child’s learning. ‘Speak only to the outcomes’ was the order. We weren’t even allowed to write that separately and attach it to the report card, or even the envelope. Yet, the parents wanted most to know that I knew their child. I remember so clearly the time a parent sat crying in front of me because on the report card (the old report card, I must say), I had mentioned that I loved her daughter’s sense of humour. Such an off-hand and seemingly insignificant comment. But, to that parent it meant the world. I knew her daughter – beyond the outcomes, beyond the learner profile, beyond the sterile comment bank. For that parent, me knowing her child was the significant take away. For teachers, it’s that ‘ah’ when a concept is understood, the little smile when a teacher says “I love the way you…”, that spontaneous running back to hug the teacher (I taught lower elementary) because a teacher made them feel good about themselves. THATS went the learning happens.


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