The year is 1983 and an enthusiastic but naïve young lady graduates from university with an education degree and a temporary contract. She has so much to learn! There are really only two things she knows for certain — that she passionately loves teenagers and that she fervently believes that education can change the world. Thirty-three years of teaching later, that now older but wiser teacher retires. If I could rewind the clock all those years, there are so many things I would like to say to that beginning teacher.
I would like to tell her that there will be good days, many good days. There will be days when she will see the lights go on in someone’s eyes as they discover a love for learning. There will be days when the conversations are rich and the debates are fierce and she will feel the joy of knowing that she made a difference in someone’s life. There will be days when she gets a card of thanks (or a bottle of Crown Royal) with some kind words and she will smile, knowing that she has the best job ever. Yes, there will be good days!
I would tell her that there will be bad days as well. Days when she wonders why she ever entered this profession. Days when, in spite of her best efforts, she will lose kids to the demons of the darkness. These demons will take many forms — apathy, carelessness, self-destruction, even death. And these days will change her. She will never get used to a student dropping out of school or following a path leading to certain demise. She will never be the same for the tears she has wept over the loss of lives so young. There will be tough days, but thankfully these days will be few and far between.
I would tell her that there will be moments when her heart will swell with pride — not over her triumphs but over “her kids,” that she will never fail to beam when reading newspaper articles about the accomplishments of former students. There will be national scholarships, 100 per cents on diploma exams and entrances to med school, and she will take pride in these accomplishments.
I would also tell her that some of her proudest moments will NOT be these. They will be the 50 per cent earned by a student who was never supposed to graduate but does. They will be the kid who wants to quit but she convinces to graduate. They will be the child who is now alive and thriving as an adult who wanted to end it all as a teenager, and she will sigh with relief and silent satisfaction.
I will tell her that she will experience the transformation from chalk boards to Smart Boards and from overhead transparencies to YouTube and that she will never stop learning. I will tell her that she will see many initiatives in education come and go, but that a bit of knowledge and a lot of common sense will trump any fleeting fads.
I would tell her that she will freeze her butt off at football games and watch countless basketball, hockey and volleyball games on uncomfortable seats, not because she loves these activities so much but because she loves the kids who play them. I would tell her that, at a sporting event, a stranger will look over at her and ask, “Which one is yours?” only to have her reply with a wicked smile, “Oh, they’re ALL mine, ma’am.”
I would tell her that she will take many trips with students overseas and that some of her richest teaching moments will not be in the classroom but while stranded for three days in New York City or on a tour of a concentration camp in Europe, and she will cherish those memories. I would tell her that every year she will cry at grad and that her husband will smile and gently chide her by saying, “I guess this was the best class you ever taught, eh?” and her reply will always be, “Of course!”
Mostly, I would tell her that, after thousands of students, hundreds of exams and 33 years of teaching, she will leave the profession, knowing only two things for certain — that she still passionately loves teenagers and that she still fervently believes that education can change the world. ❚
Lynn Hemming is a teacher and counsellor at Drumheller Valley Secondary School. She will retire on June 30 but plans to work as a substitute and tutor in the future.
This opinion column represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.