“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Carl W. Buechner
A few weeks ago administrators in our district spent two days at an amazing leadership conference. It was there that I met Sir John Jones where he spoke about creativity, teaching and leadership. He also spoke about the teachers in our lives that are the magic-weavers, the ones who have impacted our lives profoundly because they genuinely showed they cared about us as kids – the teachers who have altered who we have become because of their actions and their words. It got me to thinking about my childhood and my life as a student.
I grew up in a working class family – in retrospect a working-poor family. My dad worked for less than minimum wage and relied heavily on tips. In school, I was much like Hermione from the Harry Potter series – keen, know-it-all, not the most popular with kids, but teachers loved me. Until grade 3. My grade 3 teacher was, for lack of a better word, mean – just plain mean. Forgot your snowpants? That’ll be 50 lines at recess young lady. What this teacher didn’t realize was that sometimes the snow came before my dad’s pittance of a paycheque. I despised her and feared her, and she tainted my love for school. I was ecstatic when she went on maternity leave. I had such little respect for her that when the supply teacher later told us that she “lost the baby” I fought the urge to laugh in disdain. Such euphemisms for a miscarriage were lost on an 8-year old, and I just kept thinking, “How do you not know where your baby is? She’s a terrible mother too”. (It wasn’t until I spoke with my mother that I understood what “lost the baby” really meant.)
But then I met Madame Borrel. She was my grade 4 teacher, and she took what was by then a wounded and traumatized child under her wing and restored her faith in the adults in school. I began to trust again, especially after she came to my rescue several times when confronted by my bullies (yes – Cindy, Allison and Sarah, I remember you too, and not fondly).
Around the time I was 12-years old, two events happened within a very short time of each other. My sister came to us through the foster care system, and my mother became very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. Her RA was aggressive and almost immediately reduced her from a highly independent woman with lots of energy to someone who was bed-ridden and relying on others for a lot of her needs. My sister was frail, needy and in desperate need of a safe family that could provide her with love. And it made me jealous. I was losing my mother to a horribly debilitating disease, and I was losing her to this new member of our family. I didn’t cope well. I withdrew and became snippy. With nowhere to vent my growing feelings, I took it out on school.
By the time I hit high school I was what one teacher called a passive-aggressive underachiever. I sat at the back when I decided to attend classes, and I avoided work like the plague. But my music teacher Mr. Stanutz and my French teacher Mr. Mageau were having none of it. I can’t remember them doing anything extraordinary other than being kind and understanding, and not giving up on me despite my valiant efforts to push people away. And in return I gave them everything I could spare in terms of my respect, my loyalty and my deepest affections. I will remember them forever for it. I may not remember exactly how to conjugate some French verbs or transpose music, but I will always remember how they treated a snarly me when I tried my damnedest to be thorny and invisible. I credit them with getting me through high school with my sanity intact. They were my safe harbour during tumultuous times and never knew it.
So for you, I hope I have triggered fond memories of your magic-weavers. I hope you contact them and share your story with them. And I hope you are thinking about the kids in your building, the ones who need our care the most but may deserve it the least, the ones who are trying to hide or push us away. I hope you are or can be their magic-weaver.