What makes a great teacher?

It’s September, which means the neighbourhood children have gone back to school. It also means I’m reminiscing about school more than usual. Actually, it’s a bit odd that I ever reminisce about school. Until I got to university, I hated going to class. Oh, I always loved to learn, but I think it was the forced socialization that wasn’t for me. Since I had to be there, though, I was lucky to have some good teachers. My favourite was Mrs. Sedore.

I was in Mrs. Sedore’s class for grades three and four. Both grades were spent in the same classroom (room 13), so those years sort of blend together in my memory. Mrs. Sedore had a great way of explaining concepts and a sense of humour that I really appreciated. But the real reason Mrs. Sedore made such an impression on me is because she nurtured my love of reading and writing.

Mrs. Sedore encouraged my creative writing, saying I had a wonderful imagination and that my stories deserved to be shared with others. She always said these things in a very believable way.

It was during these years that I remember, as a class, analyzing stories for the first time. In particular, I remember reading and discussing That Scatterbrain Booky.

It’s difficult to know how much Mrs. Sedore influenced me. It’s occurred to me that I simply might’ve been at an age when one learns what they’re interested in and where their aptitudes lie. The fact that Mrs. Sedore was my teacher could have had little to do with how I felt then, and how I feel now, about reading and writing. But I’m not convinced that’s true. I think if I’d had a teacher who didn’t recognize my interests, he or she might have squashed them, however inadvertently.

I recently read a quote from one of my favourite writers, Douglas Coupland. He wrote, “A good teacher is someone who taught you what to love. A bad teacher is someone who taught you what to hate.” And I think that explains why Mrs. Sedore was such an excellent teacher.

As this school year gets underway, I hope all of you teachers will get to know your students, even the quiet ones, and recognize what sparks a flame in each of them. I hope you’ll do your best to encourage that flame to keep burning. Your students will grow up being forever grateful for it.

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3 thoughts on “What makes a great teacher?

  1. My favourite teacher was Mr. Proctor when I was much older, Grade 10, but in general I think teachers are over-rated. My experience at school and in the 40-odd years since is that teachers generally are 9-5 workers disguising their mundane demands for better working conditions in the trappings of an imaginary, altruistic ideal of what we would like teachers to be. When you’re a pre-adolescent stuck in a room with one adult, any adult, for 5-6 hours a day, five days out of seven, they are bound to leave an impression. Odds are that during those 7-8 years of elementary school, one of them will be reasonably competent. I did like Coupland’s quote — many people seem to hate school, and I’d begt it’s usually because of the teachers. You’re lucky you had Mrs. Sedore.

  2. Kudos to Mrs. Sedore. The sharpness of your memories speaks to the power of how she inspired you.

    My Grade 5 teacher Mr. Ellman lived up to Douglas Coupland’s quote. He found magic in learning, be it math, art or reading.

    My high school English teacher Mr. Friesen wove pop culture (including a close reading of Wayne and Schuster TV specials) as well as classics into the curriculum. He took the time to provide constructive criticism of creative writing assignments, thoughtfully written in elegant cursive.

    In University, Professor Hare plumbed the wild side of Canadian literature and pushed me on my essay theses and ideas.

    And finally, thanks to my dad, who sent care packages of novels (with authors ranging from Alistair MacLean to Graham Greene) to keep me reading while away at summer camp.

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