As a parent of young children, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles (too much time if you ask my mother!) and although many theories change and evolve over time, one constant idea is that “a parent is a child’s first teacher.” So how lucky am I that one of my first teachers was my dad?
My dad is amazing but everyone in this room already knows this fact. I’m going to share my observations about how my dad came to be such an amazing educator as well as human being.
Some of my first memories involve my dad and his love for teaching. I remember how my dad used to come home from school so energized and excited by what had happened in his classroom that day. He would have such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from something his students said or wrote or presented or thought which made it more than obvious how much he loved his job. Of course as in any job, some days aren’t the greatest which caused him to reflect. As many of you know, my dad isn’t a loud, boisterous man and I remember many days watching my dad think and reflect.
It was through this reflection that I feel my dad went through an evolution. Before I got into high school, my dad would let me help him mark. Of course I was only doing the true/false or m/c questions but he would sometimes share and discuss the answers with me. One discussion was very poignant for me. I remember dad showing me how some students didn’t follow his directions and wrote outside the lines for which he docked them marks. In more recent discussions dad has reflected on how he was so strict about such little things and in fact what we should be doing is encouraging our students to think outside the box which demonstrates to me, how much time my dad spends reflecting and thinking.
His views about education have changed and evolved throughout the years and I have spent some time contemplating why dad has gone through such a radical change. I have looked for the catalyst and have come up with a couple theories.
The first is that dad has two polar opposite children. I loved school and was excited by book style learning, but Ben was not. Ben has always been an outside the box thinker and loathed the way school “was done.” (unless he was in Mr. Robiliard’s music room where being an outside the box thinker was encouraged if not mandatory) I’m sure it must have been very frustrating to have two such completely different views on school (when you work in education) and yet again, I’m sure my dad reflected on why it was not engaging for Ben when he obviously had a passion for learning as demonstrated by his multiple interests outside the classroom.
The next catalyst came from when my dad went into administration. I know as a vice principal and principal, dad probably had thousands of conversations with students who had been sent to the office and I’m sure two very common themes that emerged were students were not engaged in the learning and that they didn’t feel what they were learning is relevant to real life.
The final catalyst, I’m sure, was that my dad is a learner at heart. My dad discovered the education guru, Will Richardson, as well as many others and his views on education really evolved into the forward thinker that he is today. Dad spends much of his free time reading current relevant articles and books related to education and he is always striving to learn more.
My dad and I have always had deep meaningful conversations but when I went into education, the conversations moved from father to daughter to teacher to student. Over the past nine years, my dad had taught me many valuable lessons about being an educator and I would like to share a few.
The first is my dad’s main classroom management strategy and that is to have an engaging and meaningful lesson plan. Dad was the kind of teacher that liked to shake things up and so he had a variety of activities planned for any given day so that he could engage all the students in his classroom, not just the keeners.
But, the second lesson always superseded the first- if a teachable moment arises, take it. Go off on the tangent and explore that realm especially if the students are engaged in the topic and using their critical thinking skills.
The third and most powerful message that my dad taught me was to know the students in your classroom. Take the time to talk each student about how they feel about the class but also what they like to do outside school. Treat them like human beings and they will (most of the time) treat you with kindness and dignity. And in my experience, he is absolutely right. One comment that I regularly hear from my students is that they like how I am real with them and I attribute that quality to my dad.
Now that I am established in my career, our relationship has become that of also colleague to colleague and learner to learner. Even though his experience in education is triple that of mine, our conversations are that of equals and it’s an amazing aspect of our relationship. I think it’s wonderful that I can teach my dad new things and in fact, I think he’s secretly proud of that as well.
In considering my dad as a human being, he is one of the greatest men I know. (I am definitely biased in that regard, but all of you here will support my opinion I’m sure) He is one of the most kind, caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met and I’m sure many of his former students and colleagues would say the same. One quality that he possesses that not many people know about because he is very discrete is his generosity. Many people see his outward generosity through the vast time commitment he makes to everything he does in life, but monetarily, dad is the most generous person I know. He is always donating to charity with most recently being the cancer society, but I know my dad has donated countless dollars to students in need. My dad is a true champion for children and now that I’m a parent, I understand why my dad would buy lunches for kids who didn’t have any food in the house or keep snacks in his office for those whose parents couldn’t afford food or just didn’t care enough to have adequate amounts of food in the house.
Dad also has the amazing quality of being able to see the good in everyone. He would often tell me that the ‘bad’ kids are really just misunderstood or have the potential to be really amazing people, but yet their circumstances prevent them from demonstrating their true selves. The reason that my dad knew this about those students was because he had authentic, genuine conversations about life, not just about bad behaviour, missed assignments or failed tests. Even as a vice principal and principal, dad would take the time to get to know those ‘bad’ kids to find their hidden talents or qualities. I recently had one of my good friends comment that he respects how I am able to see the goodness in everyone and that comes purely from my dad.
Finally, my dad is one of the most supportive people I know. He has gone out of his way so many times to ensure the happiness of his family, students, colleagues and everyone in his life even when it is inconvenient or at a personal cost. He wants the best for everyone and I could not be more blessed to have that champion in my corner.
So congratulations, dad, on a wonderful and satisfying career in education. And even though you are done with education, in a formal manner, I know that you will continue to inspire others to be lifelong learners and I am excited to observe and be a part of the new learning journeys you embark upon in this next phase of your life. On a side note, I also know that Lexie and Cali are excited that when Grammie sporadically comes to babysit during the school year, that Grampy will be coming too.
So please raise a glass with me to toast dad ; a true inspiration in education, learning and life.