The celebration of World Teachers’ Day in Australia this Friday provides me with the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the powerful influence a teacher may have on the life of another.
Like the butterfly effect, the ripples may travel far and unseen, with consequences that are sometimes intentional but sometimes not; often visible, but just as often not; and occasionally acknowledged, but frequently not.
World Teachers’ Day was established by UNESCO in 1996 with 5th October claimed as the date of its celebration. A map of the world shows that not all participating countries observe that specific date each year, but usually do recognise a day in October. As 5th October falls during the school holidays for most Australian children, the last Friday of October is the date celebrated in Australia.
According to UNESCO, the day was established to be “devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world. The real point is to provide a time to look at and address issues pertaining to teachers. Strangely one of the most central, vital professionals to society does not receive the respect it deserves in some parts of the world.”
The slogan for this year’s celebration is “A call for teachers”, highlighting the dire shortage of professionally trained teachers in so many places around the world, a situation which is not expected to show any improvement before 2030.
While I often talk of the limitations I see in a traditional approach to education, I am very appreciative of the fact that, in Australia, every child has access to an education system with well-trained and educated professionals. It is certainly a privilege not shared by all around the world.
So on World Teachers’ Day, let’s celebrate what we do have, and what we have learned from the many teachers who have touched our lives. The fact that you are reading this means that someone, somewhere supported you to learn to read. There may be a teacher who touched your life in a very special way. Are they still around? Have you let them know?
If you have children at school, have you told their teachers how much you appreciate their efforts?
Some people say “They are just doing their job, why should I thank them?”
But let me assure you: there are very few teachers who just ‘do’ their job. The wonderful, innovative, creative and inspiring teachers live it! It is their purpose in life. They are devoted to improving the educational outcomes for their students. They work long hours, away from the classroom, reflecting on learning and how to improve it and make it engaging for students.
Some children think teachers even sleep at school, that they have no life out of the classroom. I can hear the chuckling of the teachers who are reading this now, because it’s true! Well, not really, but sometimes it seems like it. They carry the children in their hearts, striving for ways to help each fulfill their dreams and ease their worries.
However maintaining that dedication year after year with little acknowledgment or a sense of being valued can be difficult and disheartening; and many teachers burn out when there is little fuel to keep the flame alight. A small word of appreciation may be all it takes to keep their energy and motivation levels high.
So join with me in acknowledging a teacher who has made a difference in your life . . . the teacher effect!
I acknowledge two inspirational teachers:
Dr Brian Cambourne and Peter Kidston
Dr Brian Cambourne was Head of the Reading-Language Centre at Riverina CAE when I did literacy studies there a long time ago. (”CAE” gives a hint at how long ago!) He is still working in the field of literacy education at the University of Wollongong. It was an enormous privilege to learn from such an intuitive, innovative, inspirational and influential literacy educator. Not only am I indebted to him, but the ripple effect travels far and unseen, touching the lives of the students and teachers with whom I have since worked, and beyond. . . Thank you, Brian. Your power is immeasurable.
Acceptance for study in the program under Brian’s tutelage came at a time when I was searching for answers about how children learn and how best to teach them. When I applied for a course about teaching literacy, I didn’t realise the impact it would have upon my developing philosophy of education and understanding of how children learn. I already had serious misgivings about the traditional approach I had been schooled in and the systems I was working for, but had nothing tangible to replace it with.
Through developing an understanding of Brian’s “conditions for learning” I began to see how I could not only effectively support students with their learning, but could make that learning meaningful and enjoyable as well. I found that the conditions Brian espoused applied to all learning, not just literacy. The understanding from readings I had previously engaged with about educational alternatives e.g. books by John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and John Dewey, combined with my new understandings to help me formulate a strong and effective pedagogical practice. Armed with my new understandings and skills, I was ready to once again face the classroom.
And that’s where Peter Kidston came in.
Peter Kidston was the principal at one of the first schools to which I was assigned after completing my studies at Riverina CAE. Peter was an effective leader; strong but relaxed, firm but compassionate. He was respected and loved by staff, students and parents. He was actively involved in the community and worked tirelessly for the benefit of his students. If there were problems, he often solved them by . . . listening. I think he worked on the premise that, when a problem has a proper airing, the solution soon presents itself.
My first step onto the school grounds told me that this school was going to be different. The students were friendly and welcoming, greeting me as I walked through the grounds. The staff too, were friendly and relaxed, and Peter was pleased to see me.
One of the roles of a principal is that of educational leadership, and Peter was the best I have met. I firmly believe that the tone of a school is set by the principal; and the warmth and friendliness of the school I attribute to Peter’s leadership. Peter always let his teachers know how valued they were through feedback, encouragement and support. He led by showing, not telling.
Peter encouraged the innovative strategies I was implementing in my classroom by providing support, respect and professional freedom. At the same time he ensured educational expectations were being addressed through questioning and conversations designed to encourage a wider and more in-depth reflection on my practice. He followed up with classroom visits to monitor the students’ participation and learning progress. The respect and value he placed upon my professionalism enabled me to stretch beyond my own expectations; at the same time developing effective, independent and self-directed learners who enjoyed the school experience as much as I did.
Thank you, Peter. I am indebted to you. The ripple effect of my learning under your leadership goes far and unseen beyond those few classes at your school into unknown territories.
Which teacher will you thank today?
If you would like to print out your own “The teacher effect” bookmarks for a teacher special to you, click here.