Saturday, December 7, 2013

Teachers are not Oracles

One of the characters with whom I attended Glebe Collegiate Institute from 1984 - 1989 was named Andrew Potter.  I remember Andrew as a bit of a rogue element in class, particularly Grade 11 English.  When we started reading Othello, we read scene 1 in which secondary characters give the back story of Othello and Desdemona's courtship and marriage.  Our teacher then asked us what character we were most interested in meeting, clearly expecting the answer to be "Othello".  Andrew's immediate and excited answer, based on the descriptions of her beauty? "Desdemona!"

Another time I was giving a presentation in that same English class, I forget what the topic was, and the teacher angrily woke Andrew up from his happy sleep on the desk.  Andrew was not too fazed by the teacher's anger but was a good enough guy to apologize to me after the class.

I think it is fair to say that our Grade 11 English teacher would have been convinced that Andrew was never going to amount to anything in the field of writing or literature.  Today it was announced that Andrew Potter is the new Editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.  Also today, Kate Heartfield reposted on her blog a column Andrew wrote in 2001 about Nelson Mandela and citizenship.  It is a deep column, full of terrific ideas.  Since high school, Andrew has also worked as a university professor, written a book, and co-written another.  Not bad for someone who would fall asleep in English class.

My point here is that as teachers we often think we know how things will go after school for our students.  We are positive that the bright, hard-working students will go on to have successful lives and careers and we are pretty sure that sure that the lazy, annoying students won't go very far at all.  The example of Andrew Potter should serve to remind us that people change and that the student is not the future adult.

In my time as a teacher I have heard so many stories from adults along the lines of "this teacher told me I would never amount to anything".  Hearing those stories always makes me a bit sad because it means that some teachers, who should have been supporting and helping their students, were wasting everyone's time making negative judgments that most likely were not even correct.

If you are a teacher, please do not tell any student anything that can be construed as "you won't amount to anything".  No matter how lazy, wasteful, annoying, or rude you think they are right now, you never know how they will turn out.

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