A few weeks ago the New Zealand government launched an online campaign called inspiredbyu. The idea is that New Zealanders would write a virtual postcard to teachers that helped shaped them into the person they are today.
On the surface the initiative seems great. Genuine words of thanks are the most powerful bonus any teacher can receive. Yet I find myself wondering if in celebrating the best means we don’t take time to learn from our failures.
I’ve been critical of the superhero narrative creeping into our national conversation of education that there’s a special breed of teachers out there that will be all things to all kids all the time.
However the reality is that no one teacher is a perfect fit for every student.
Education is such a personalised process. Each learner brings with them their own personality and so do our teachers. The things that make a teacher great in the eyes of one student are often part of their personality.
However just like shoes what might make someone an awesome teacher for one student might be down right awful for another.
At the end of last year I received some lovely cards and some words of thanks from both students and parents. I also received a phone call from one parent that will stick with me for a very long time.
A child in my class had hated being in my class so much that they were refusing to come to school.
While feeling the sting of criticism can be tough, mostly I felt bad for the kid that they felt so poor in my class for the entire year. The words still hang in the air.
I was this child’s worst teacher.
There wasn’t any malicious intent from either me or the child – just a break down in communication. I knew something was up but I wasn’t able to put together the missing pieces. In that respect I was a failure.
Did I learn from the experience?
Have I changed my classroom management as a result of the experience?
While classroom success should be celebrated failure isn’t something that should be stuffed away. In fact the first thing I did after the phone call was let my principal at the time know about the situation. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do but it was the right one.
At some point in their career every teacher is going to have a moment when they are someone’s worst teacher.
Having this title doesn’t make a teacher bad it’s what we do with it afterwards that counts.
At a time when teaching in the media is increasingly being polarised between the incompetent and brilliant it’s worth reminding that all teachers have bad days and also kids in their classes that they weren’t able to develop that learning relationship.
Most days I’m good for most kids, great for some and working really hard to make adequate with a few.