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Why Good Teachers Matter

If your teacher comes to school with an empty margarine tub on his head, is he crazy? Probably. You might decide he’s someone to steer clear of. But he also might just be brilliant. He might be the one to bring you out of your darkness. That was certainly the case for me. And that’s why good teachers matter.

I had two English teachers in high school who stood out, but for entirely different reasons. The first, my grade 9 teacher Mr. Drinkell, was an older fellow who always seemed like he wanted to be somewhere else. A humourless grump, he didn’t like me, and the feeling was mutual. He threatened to fail me. I always felt I was smarter than him, but that just could’ve been my attitude. He gave me consistently low marks on essays. I think the best I ever got was a 65%. And he never provided a reason for those low marks.

Mr. Drinkell was one of the reasons why school was not high on my list of favourite things to do. But the other teacher who stood out, Mr. Trickey, was one of the reasons why my last few high school years were bearable, maybe even a little enjoyable.

Mr. Trickey showed me that I was smart and that I could amount to something. He was attentive, caring, and funny. I mean, he wore a plastic butter tub to school on “Crazy Hat Day”! But above all else, he was encouraging.

If I had not had someone like Mr. Trickey enter my life in the midst of my rebellious teen years, who knows how my life would have become. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be sitting in my favourite chair writing this post!

The Sport Of Teacher Bashing

For as long as I’ve known, and probably for most of modern history, some people love to complain about teachers. “Teacher Bashing” has become a sport for some. And even before I was married to a teacher, it has pissed me off. I would prefer to see people direct their anger at a more deserving profession, like collection agents!

But seriously, teachers get more than their fair share of a bad rap. And for the most part, it’s completely undeserved. Yes there are bad teachers out there, but they’re far fewer than the good teachers. There’s also bad nurses and bad lawyers and bad painters. And while the bad ones generate the most noise, they’re always in the very small minority. I’m happy to argue that point with anyone.

It’s Not Your Kids’ Teacher’s Fault

Why do people like to teacher bash? Is it because they had a teacher like Mr. Drinkell, and they never got over it? Is it because their kid doesn’t do well in school, and they think it’s all the teacher’s fault? Maybe it’s because they’re secretly envious of teachers and the seemingly generous time off and their “cushy” workload. It could be all of the above or something else entirely, but the bottom line is; they have no understanding of what it means to be a teacher.

I think much of the teacher bashing comes from the segment of society that thinks teachers are just skilled daycare workers. School is just a place to send little Johnny to keep him occupied while Mommy and Daddy go off to work. And they expect their children to learn all the things their parents don’t have time to teach them, like how to become decent people. Then they bitch to the other parents in their Facebook parents group about that useless teacher who can’t even teach their kids how to go to the bathroom.

Why Good Teachers Matter, By The Numbers

Now it’s time for some statistics. Gauging a teacher’s performance can’t just rely on statistics, since there are so many intangible benefits to having a good teacher. But there are some numbers that are worth looking at. This list is courtesy of

1. Teaching Is A Notable Profession

Of the most prestigious professions, teaching is in the top 5, with 51% of people considering it notable. That number used to be 29% in the 1970’s, so that’s a significant change.

2. Kids Turn To Teachers When They Need Help

54% of kids said they went to their teacher for help during a difficult time. And that’s not just with their school work. Sometimes a teacher is the safest person for a vulnerable kid.

3. Teachers Have The Power To change Lives

I like this one; 88% of respondents said a teacher had a significant, positive impact on their lives. That’s a huge number!

4. Students Look Up To Their Teachers

Another big number. 75% of students say they look up to their teachers as mentors and role models. That is a helluva responsibility!

5. People Really Do Admire The Work Of Teachers

Even though there are too many people who like to teacher bash, a whopping 89% of people polled think that teachers have a really hard job. So is there really 11% who think it’s not a hard job??!!

6. Teachers Are Some Of The Best Encouragers

Going back to my own experience with Mr. Trickey, this one really resonates with me. 79% of students said a teacher encouraged them to follow their dreams.

7. Teachers Help Students Believe In Themselves

Considering that 83% of students said that teachers boosted their self-esteem and confidence, it’s pretty obvious that teaching kids is so much more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

8. Teachers Have A Long-Lasting Positive Impact

Almost everyone who responded to this statement (98%!) said that a good teacher has the ability to change the course of a student’s life for better. Oprah Winfrey constantly talked about her grade 4 teacher and the impact she had on her life.

Aren’t these some eye-opening numbers? If you want to dig deeper, you can find the research here. ING Foundation Survey, National Center for Education Statistics, EDWeek

why good teachers matter
Image by Holly Dornak from Pixabay

A Teacher’s Day, Explained

So just what does a teacher do all day? I mean, don’t they just work from, like, 8:30 to 3? How hard can that be?

Granted, the classroom hours are fewer than most 9-5 jobs, but I’ll bet that a significant majority of people not working as teachers don’t bring work home with them. But before we get into that, let’s look at what a teacher does.

Most teachers are in their classrooms well before their students arrive. They prepare the room, make sure their resources are ready, and finish any last minute prep for their lesson plan. Sometimes they’ll meet with a parent before classes begin. Every so often a staff meeting may be scheduled before school starts.

Then the kids arrive, and depending on the grade, they’re “On” for the rest of the day, until the last child goes home. That means helping kids with their lessons, even when some of those kids are learning at different rates than the other kids, responding to and helping out fellow teachers, making presentations to the class, spending their lunch time teaching or assisting kids, addressing behaviour issues, refereeing groups of kids, creating new ways of connecting with challenging kids, constantly making connections and nurturing those connections, being empathetic with kids and colleagues, and maintaining a level of energy that most of us could simply not imagine, let alone sustain! Whew!

And that’s just the day at school.

Then There’s The Parents

Being a teacher means more than just teaching kids. Let’s not forget the parents. Keeping parents informed of the progress of their kids is an ongoing process. Lots of emails get written, and lots of follow up with parents is done throughout the school year.

Most parents are great. But not all. And it’s those “special” few that can really up the stress level of good teachers. Sometimes there’s after school meetings with parents. Sometimes there’s before school meetings with parents.

And sometimes there’s parents who just show up at school and want to meet with the teacher. Can you imagine if that’s how doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, or any other professionals worked? But that’s exactly what some parents expect of their children’s teachers. If you are a parent who does this, give your head a shake. It’s disrespectful. You want to meet with your little angel’s teacher to discuss something? Make an appointment!

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Helicopter Parenting in a nutshell…

As a parent, I believe my role is to provide guidance and structure; to hold my children accountable and to teach values; provide lots of love and acceptance; keep them safe, cared for and well fed with nutritious food; and to be supportive and encouraging. I want to guide them to be able to make responsible, considered choices in their lives. No parent should abdicate these responsibilities and expect their children’s teacher to assume the duty. But, sadly, some parents expect the teacher to do just that.

A Teacher’s Day, Continued

We’ve looked at a teacher’s time at school, but that’s only part of their day.

The amount of time a teacher spends prepping for their class is not insignificant. According to some studies out of the US, the average teacher performs 1-2 hours per day during the week prepping and creating lessons, researching, learning strategies, communicating with parents, correcting assignments and marking tests, working on individual learning plans for struggling students, and myriad other things to help their kids learn in a positive, structured environment.

What about weekends? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average teacher brings home 2-3 hours of work at the end of each school week. I don’t know what the stats are for Canadian teachers, so I can only go by what I see Heather doing.

Heather has a four day work week, teaching a grade 3/4 split class in French Immersion. What does that mean? She is teaching a mixed class of kids, some in Primary, some Intermediate. Two different curriculums! This 3/4 split is one of the hardest classroom structures to teach.

And while she has Wednesdays off, she still puts in a good 10 hours each day, as well as time on the weekends, making sure she’s prepped for each school day. Her so-called 4 day work week runs her anywhere from 42-50 hours a week!

And being the kind of teacher she is, she also thinks about her students all the time. She worries over each kid, and works hard to find ways to make their education meaningful and rewarding. She’s empathetic, compassionate, and encouraging. Basically she’s a Mr. Trickey to each one of her kids!

The Definition of Stressful

I have often joked (not really a joke) that if I were a teacher of young children, or teens, I’d probably end up losing my mind. I can handle small children in very small groups of two or less. Any more than that, and my head will pop off. I’m just not wired to handle that kind of stress. And neither are most people.

But you know what? Most teachers are wired like that. At least the ones who continue. What do I mean by that?

A high percentage of young teachers end up leaving the profession after just a year or two. In the US, poor compensation and high stress, along with feeling undervalued, are the main culprits. Here in Canada, some provinces see teacher attrition rates as high as 40% in the first five years of their careers! So many people who get into teaching are completely unprepared for the job.

There are some who decide to teach because they can have two months off in the summer. But then they find out just how difficult the other 10 months of the year are, and they can’t handle the workload or the stress. It’s the ones who make teaching their career that find a way to make it work. And the ones who make it work with compassion and a love for their students are the teachers who matter.

Our Children’s Experience-Why Good Teachers Matter

Our own kids have had their share of teachers who mattered to them. Those teachers who made them work hard, and pushed them to challenge themselves are the ones that mattered.

I’ve enjoyed many dinnertime conversations with Zachary and Beth-Rose about their classes. We’ve had some lively discussions about the work they’re doing and the teachers who guide them. Yes, there’s the teachers who are just putting in their days, “phoning in” their lessons and making the day go by as quickly as they can. But those are not the majority.

Others maintain a strict protocol for learning in their classrooms, and stay on top of their student’s progress. And then there are the few teachers who really care about their students and provide an environment that fosters growth, enthusiastic learning and compassionate encouragement.

I am so happy that my kids have those teachers in their lives. These are mentors who will be thought of for many years to come. Their own “Mr. Trickey” to guide them and show them they matter. It’s those special teachers who really matter!

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10 months ago

so very well said … perhaps some of the people who really need to read this will read it and take it to heart …. we can hope

10 months ago

My grade one teacher, Ms Kreiser, left a significant impression upon me. She was HOT! I still remember the 1960’s skirts she wore. My friend Jim and I used to argue over which one of us was going to marry her. You can imagine my thrill, and then the dejection, I felt when I had Ms. Kreiser again in grade 4, only to have her leave a few months in on ‘maternity leave’. WTF! I guess she decided not to wait for me.

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