One School, One Teacher: Why it Matters

Unless you project hope for your students, your efforts to teach them to read, write, and calculate won’t make a profound difference.

As educators, we all grapple with the challenges of creating learning communities where innovation, creativity, and imagination are encouraged; a community where students feel they belong and where they learn to love learning. At the foundation of this community is the central premise behind what we do, the reason as to why teaching is the noblest of professions:  

A teacher’s task is not only to engage students’ imagination but also to convince them that they are people of worth who can do something in a very difficult world. 

This past week, while cleaning out my Outlook folders, I received a gift in the form of an old email from a staff member at my former school.  I share it with you now because I think it projects hope, speaks to the power of community and reaffirms both the importance of teachers and the intrinsic value of schools:

X failed grade 10 Science last year (tough kid with a tough life, like so many) and hasn’t been around much this year.  

If the Ministry pulled her report card and disregarded her attendance, they would see by summative assessment alone that she’s intelligent and knows her stuff. Formatively, she gets it; sits alone in the front row and asks great clarifying questions while doodling away (like I did when I was in school). 

Her mark is an A so far this year, with an 88% average though her attendance is abysmal. Does she know her stuff, most likely; is she capable, of course (and a fantastic Fine Arts student, some of her better sketches are posted on my back wall for all to see); will she fall through the cracks, if by cracks we can say she accidentally lands on the laps of admissions at Emily Carr with glowing reports on her capabilities, then I sure hope so. 

Someone talk to this girl please and find out what the heck is going on… she’s amazing and I want to see her succeed. And while I can’t do this for all of my students, I couldn’t help commenting on this one as I’m reviewing their reports at home. 

Rereading this powerful email, I was reminded of Fran Norris Scoble who, in her article, “Is School Good for the Soul?,” contends that the ideal of school is wrapped around the constructs of community and family. In what may be one of the greatest lines ever written about schools, she states:

It matters far less that we know what time class starts than that we know why we gather and how we are changed because we do.

She reasons that “in the simplicity of relationships and the demanding nature of familiarity in intimate space, there is the grounding for a deeper understanding of ourselves and of what we care about.”

The teacher’s email I am sharing with you finds it’s origin in this ‘intimate space’. Through it, we come to appreciate not only the student’s situation but also an understanding that this teacher is guided by hope and optimism that manifests itself in caring and responsibility… in making a difference in the lives of the students he serves.

Within this particular teacher and within all of us there is inherent goodness and compassion: a goodness and compassion that is not an act but rather a habit, a way of life; a goodness and compassion that states, quite simply, there is no ‘they’, only ‘us’.

Why is this so important to us as educators? Because the relationships between each of us and our school community are reciprocal: we simultaneously shape our school and are in turn shaped by it. And this is why schools should be good for the soul. In giving hope and love to those we serve, we not only enrich their lives but our also our own. We give and in doing so reaffirm the wonder and belief in ourselves and the world around us. We reaffirm that we are all people of worth.