Sue is an elementary school teacher on extended parental leave to stay at home full time with her son. She is passionate about all things related to arts and-crafts, language, and science! Thank you Sue, for sharing these musings on what makes an exceptional teacher. I can think of a few such teachers from my own childhood.
What Makes An Exceptional Teacher?
What do you think makes an exceptional teacher? Is it that unique ability to put oneself into a student’s shoes and see things through their point of view? Is it having a mastery of one’s subject or exceptional communication skills? Is it about seeing a student as more than just a sum of their parts?
Everyone has a favourite teacher that they can remember from early school years. Probably your favourite teacher had a few, if not all, of the qualities listed above. My favorite teacher certainly did.
He was a little unusual for an elementary school teacher, because he was a man. Also, it was widely known that teaching wasn’t his only gig. Mr. Smith not only taught full-time, but he wrote the drama critiques and reviews column for the large newspaper in the city close to where I grew up. He was highly involved in theatre himself and brought that love to his students.
I was lucky enough to have Mr. Smith for my teacher in grades 1 and 2 and later when I was in grades 4, 5, and 6; I was involved in school musicals that he directed.
What I remember most about Mr. Smith from the early grades was that he was FUN. Isn’t it always those teachers that stand out in your memory? Our classroom was full of laughter, poetry, art and drama.
I remember that he used to keep exceptional artwork up on his walls, long after those students had moved into higher grades. I was always proud to return to his class as a “big grade 5 or 6er” and see one of my art pieces still there! He just had a way of making kids feel good.
Teaching Through Discipline
He also treated his students exceptionally fair. There was one time when I was given the privilege of staying inside at recess on my own to finish an art piece. For some reason, only God knows why, I went around the room and tore a small corner off the page of everyone else’s work. I can remember clearly doing this, but to this day, have no idea why I did it!
When the kids came back in from recess, Mr. Smith easily figured out who the art culprit had been, as my piece was the only one without a missing corner!
I remember being quietly pulled into the hallway and firmly but gently confronted about my behavior. There was no scolding or shaming, just a very serious discussion about my actions and how they had affected others.
I think I remember that episode so much because I felt very deep remorse about my actions, and I was grateful my favorite teacher still liked and cared about me, even though I had been quite naughty!
Committed to Excellence
Later on, in grades 4-6, Mr. Smith directed me in the school musicals. He encouraged me to try out the first year, and really took me under his wing.
These musicals that he directed were not just “kid-stuff” either – they were big productions. We had amazing costumes rented from a theater company, professional lighting, and performed for large audiences. We rehearsed for months and really felt like we were a part of something important. They were a source of self-esteem and positive memories.
The time commitment from Mr. Smith, and the other teachers involved, must have been huge. It’s hard to see that as a kid, and although we all loved Mr. Smith, I don’t think any of us really appreciated how much work and time he must have put in to do these shows with us…and really, FOR us.
As a teacher and a parent now, I can see all the amazing things he did…and was. Mr. Smith was such a huge positive influence on me.
Encouragement Into Adulthood
He encouraged me to pursue singing and acting, which has been a source of incredible enjoyment in my life. Even into adulthood, he followed my “career” and supported me by interviewing me for his newspaper column, even giving me great reviews for my performances in several musicals.
He has become a positive mental teaching template for me. I often think about how Mr. Smith would deal with certain situations when I am challenged by a student.
He has also inspired me to direct musicals with my own students over the years and hopefully I can make a difference for some of them as he did for me. This has been one of my favorite, and the most rewarding, parts of being a teacher.
Lifelong Positive Influence
The photograph above shows Mr. Smith and me after I had received the grade 6 Drama Award. You can tell by my face that I was thrilled, and especially honored to receive this award from my favorite teacher.
When I look at it now, tears fill my eyes, and I send a hearty thank you to this special man who had such a positive influence on me as a child, and as an adult.
Thank you, Mr. Smith.
– Sue Lively
What About You?
Do you have an all time favorite snapshot from your childhood? Maybe a photo from your school years? I have memories of my favorite teachers, and seeing snapshots of their classrooms can bring so many memories to mind.
Do you have an exceptional teacher who inspired you like Mr. Smith inspired Sue? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!