Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Beginning Teachers

I have followed your posts with deep sadness.  I feel your frustration, anger and passion.  I too felt all of those feelings in my 25 years in education.  I am retired now and every January 1st my pension cheque  reflects a cost of living increase.  I don't have to bargain, picket or face the court of public opinion for that raise.  I thank all of those frustrated, angry, passionate educators who went before me every time my pension cheque lands in my bank account.

I have walked picket lines (and still do).  I have (and continue to) curse a government that has such callous disregard for the students in its care.  I have been involved in more strike votes than any employee should ever have to face and yet, the battle rages on.

Having said all of that, what I want you to know is that this is not what I think of when I look back on my incredible career.  These are not the moments I remember.  The politicians, educational pundits, angry parents, negative media personnel and most of all, those people who tell us to get a 'real' job, move to another province or simply give us the international one-fingered wave, they are not the people I remember.

I remember shining faces, excited learners, moments of discovery and mastery.  I remember coaxing angry students out from underneath their desks and watching them build trust with me and their classmates.  I remember hugging (yes, hugging) students of all ages and sizes when they were happy, sad and on occasion, even grateful.  I remember watching their faces the first time they saw the ocean or went to the city or gathered bits of nature to make our special picture frames.  I remember students who were so grateful to have a teacher who recognized their strengths, not just the academic strengths but also their strengths of determination, creativity, friendship, leadership, service, empathy and kindness.  I remember their excitement when they came to see if they could start a school garden or a drama club or a chess tournament or a musical production or a basketball team or an environmental club . . .and knew that I would be a sucker, like most of you, for whatever they wanted to take on.

Last weekend I went to a local event where many of my previous First Nations students were performing; dancing drumming, canoe racing and providing leadership and support.  I got lots of hugs (this might be the part of teaching I miss the most).  These former students proudly pointed out their sons and daughters who were following in their footsteps.  As the chief spoke I heard him say, "We were not always proud of who we were as a people" and I was glad to hear the  past tense being used.  I remember that being true early on in my teaching career.  Our FN students were shy and quiet and tended to stick together.  There was no drumming or dancing or Halq'emeylem language class in our school in those days.  I am proud of the changes that the parents, staff, students and community  initiated to make these changes happen.  Public education is full of these kinds of challenges that are often not part of the private school system.  These are the rewards that you will also have in the years to come.  You are making a difference.  Not even the government can take this away from you.

I want to remind you of the joy you feel when a lesson you have spent hours preparing reaches that one student and you can see the lights go on and the confidence start to build.  I want you to think of that  project or presentation or report or essay that resonated with new knowledge and deep understanding.  I want you to remember, even through this ridiculous lockout, that you may well be that one person who inspires a future scientist, ballet dancer, poet, artist, mathematician, chef, musician, entrepreneur or astronaut.

I am hoping  for your sake, but more importantly, for my grandchildren and all the students who rely on public education that this fiasco ends soon.  I am not hopeful that this will be the end of the conflict but I am sure that your anger, frustration and passion are a reflection of strong, caring individuals and I know that your hearts are in the right place.  And trust me, this profession that you have dedicated yourselves to requires heart!

What I want you to know is that at the end of the day the memories you have will be filled with wonderful people, wonderful experiences and wonderful accomplishments.  Hang in there.  You really ARE amazing!


  1. I'm not a beginning teacher (20 years next year) and I appreciate your words. I hope that after I retire, the fiasco that us happening right now is not what I remember because right now it's all I can think if. In 2 1/2 short weeks I have gone from a teacher who can't wait to get out of bed and go to work to a teacher who counts down the minutes until the bell rings at the end of the say. School is not a happy place for me right now...

    1. I remember those moments as well, Sharon but what has REALLY stuck with me are the moments with the kids and the great people that I worked with. I have been on both ends as a teacher and as an administrator. Holding my tongue as an administrator was much more wearing on me than being able to get out and fight for what I believed (and still do) in. You should look in the mirror at the end of each day, the good ones and the bad ones and acknowledge that you are a caring, passionate person who is out there EVERY day making a difference. Take care of yourself!

  2. Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. As a teacher (10 years now) struggling with the conflict of our current time the support and hopeful message is well received. We stand together as united professionals and know why we do it - to have these memories in the future not a continual feeling of being overwhelmed.by a lack of resources that prevents these opportunities from emerging.

    1. Thanks Blair! There was labour unrest for my whole career. I felt (and still feel) all the things you and your colleagues are feeling. I do have a sense, maybe because of social media, this time that the feelings are even stronger and educators KNOW that they must stand up in spite of all of the negatives that go with it. Good for you, for who you are and for all you do! Hang in there!