The best thing about the past is that it shows you what not to bring into the future.
How many times have you been told to ‘Let go of the past’ or ‘Let bygones be bygones’? Sage advice to be sure, particularly if some past deed is eating away at you. But, we can also use our past to better shape our future.
Many people come across at least one teacher during their schooling who inspires or motivates far beyond any other teachers. It may be a teacher you develop a particular connection with, or who is there for you during a particularly rough period … or, as in the case of my son, a teacher who ‘just gets you’.
I have been lucky enough to have had several teachers who inspired me in various ways, and who I strive to emulate in certain aspects of my teaching: my Year 2 teacher who drew amazing pictures for us on the blackboard each week; my teacher in Year 4 who was ‘old school’ in her methods but showed compassion to each and every one of us; my Art teacher in Year 7 who made me believe in myself and my abilities; my Year 10 English teacher who instilled in me a love of literature and writing and my mentor teacher during my final practicum who showed me it was ok to ‘be me’ while I taught.
Each of these teachers, and several more I haven’t mentioned, helped and guided me along my path to becoming the teacher I am today. These teachers contributed to aspects of my past that I wanted to bring into my future.
Then, there were the teachers at the ‘other end of the spectrum’. These are the ones I learned even more from — in terms of the sort of teacher I didn’t want to become.
My Year 3 teacher, who I loved dearly, wanted to be friends with all of her students. She would make an amazing waffle cake whenever someone had a birthday. She allowed the class to talk over her. If people said they didn’t want to do something (like maths) then we didn’t have to. In a class containing a large proportion of rather unruly students, this offering of friendship was to the complete detriment of her behaviour management and class control.
I remembered this during my university days and sought ways to still be friendly with my students (because I liked that aspect of her), but to show them where the ‘line’ was.
For my first teaching practicum, I was placed on a Year 3 class with a mentor whose first words to me were, ‘Get out of teaching now while you have the chance! I am.’ All I can say is, I wish he had a year earlier. This awful attitude was reflected in his complete lack of engagement with his students. There was no emotion, no inspiration, no enjoyment and no fun. I suspect there was also no learning. A robot would have engaged more effectively.
When I had my first class all to myself after graduation, I remembered this man and I sought multiple ways to engage with my students and make their learning effective, but enjoyable. I also remembered him when I took on my first pre-service teacher, resolving not to tell her all the bad things about teaching.
Finally, I am constantly amazed my Greek teacher in primary school did not turn me off learning a language in later years. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was extremely rare for a Primary School to have a language program during the 70’s. My primary school was one of very few schools to run a K-6 language program because we happened to have access to a teacher of Greek. She … was … appalling. We couldn’t fault her language skills — she was Greek. We could, however, fault her behaviour management and her rapport with kids. She yelled at us constantly, made us sit with ‘hands on heads’ for half the lesson and put large red crosses through our work every lesson. I can recall nothing she ever said that was pleasant, friendly or positive.
When I was employed in my first school, in a combined role on class and teaching Japanese K-6, I swore I would make Japanese enjoyable for my students. I wanted them to learn to communicate and learn about the culture but, above all to develop a love and appreciation of language learning in general.
Several years later, in another school, I was again teaching both a class and K-6 Japanese and this lady was occasionally employed as a relief teacher. Initially she didn’t know who I was. I would hear her with the class in the next room; nothing had changed. Eventually I told her that she had taught me Greek during my primary school years. Her reaction?
“Oh … and now you are a language teacher too. I am so pleased I had such an influence on you!”
Yes — she certainly had an influence, just not the sort she was referring to.
Harnessing our past, selecting experiences and learning from them, can certainly help to shape our future selves.