Preface to A Lasting Impression
As teachers and coaches or anyone for that matter, we all have to understand that our words and actions have powerful consequences both positively and negatively.
Words can hurt. Words can empower.
I learned a lot during my early teaching and coaching days. I will never forget those life lessons, they have shaped my teaching and coaching career, but importantly they have impacted me on a personal level.
In this case I will never forget the student at the back of the room.
A Lasting Impression, 16 years later (Originally Published on June 7, 2017)
I was so young and thought I was the cool teacher. Or that’s what I wanted to be.
I had just secured my first teaching job at the same school that I had done my practicum the year before. I was heavily active in sports and coached three different teams as a student teacher.
I didn’t really have a teaching philosophy as of yet, and that first year teaching Math10, World Issues 120, Canadian Geography 120 and Science 9 would be an adventure that I would never forget.
I quickly found out that I was in over my head and I wasn’t a very good teacher.
My methods were basic, my teaching style rigid and unsure.
I knew how to control the class but as many beginning teachers find out early on, it’s all about survival those first few years.
I have vivid memories of that first year and being in over my head but it was my World Issues class that changed my perspective of teaching. I wanted to be the cool university style teacher with the Gr. 12 students. I wanted to be edgy and provocative in that class and really showcase my interest and intrigue in current events.
My educational background was Kinesiology and Biology, but it was the era of “what can you do for our school” that landed me this job.
I was so eager to coach and kick start my career that I missed so many lessons about the profession along the way.
I had taught Math for about a month as part of a long term supply the semester before and had the aforementioned minor in Biology, so that paved the way for me to take on this teaching assignment.
Nevertheless, the World Issues class was personally intriguing to me because I could showcase my knowledge outside of my other so-called disciplines. Well that’s what I thought anyhow.
The cool edgy teaching style that I so desired to put on display quickly turned the classroom into chaos and those Gr. 12 students that I wanted to impress quickly took advantage of a young naïve teacher.
I had lost control of the class, what type of teacher was I? It’s my first year and I absolutely dread and feared this dynamic. I thought I was complete failure. I have zero classroom management skills other than raising my voice and yelling. How will I ever get these kids to listen to me?
The feelings of uncertainty and poor self-confidence had to have been transparent. The students could see right through me!
It was at this point that I decided to make the course extremely difficult. There, I thought maybe if I make it hard for them they would actually respect me even more and listen to me when I try to teach. I assigned that class paper after paper, assignment after assignment. At 23 years of age, I upped the antae so I thought.
There was one particular student in that class that always stuck out.
He was opinionated, outspoken, and argumentative and in some cases down right defiant so I thought.
He challenged everything I said and did, he was relentless but man could the kid write.
Class discussion after class discussion the grungy looking kid at the back right corner of the class would question and challenge my depth of knowledge at every turn. He insisted to hear more information more knowledge at every turn. He needed a teacher that could challenge him and clearly I wasn’t it.
I quickly realized by his often-disinterested glare and perceived hatred of me that this student needed to be challenged. His critical thinking, reasoning skills and intellect were off the charts. It was evident he needed a conduit an outlet to express himself even further.
His outlet was the written word, it consumed him, it focused the beast inside him. His writing was fierce, edgy, opinionated and exceptional.
One day late in the semester, I remember calling him up to my desk.
While the class was uncharacteristically quiet and working, I sat at my desk looking up at the student who had challenged me to be a better teacher and said.
“You really should consider writing for a career, you are extremely gifted and you have an amazing way with words.”
There stood the student who had challenged my every move throughout the semester, a small smirk came across his face that turned into a reluctant shy smile.
“Thank you, Mr. Eagles,” he replied.
I had passed his paper back to him in that quiet moment and remember his confident stride to his desk at the back of the room.
Maybe this teaching gig isn’t so bad after all?
Fast-forward 16 years. As I sit in Directed Study Placement during lunchtime holding students accountable for missed tests and assignments, I quickly gazed at my LinkedIn profile, a message notification appeared.
I was blown away by the message that I was reading from the aforementioned student. A few weeks later a larger than normal package appeared in my mailbox at school.
As I opened the package in the staffroom, a shy smile came across my face.
I couldn’t contain my excitement and joy.
I started to show every colleague around me what had been delivered not realizing that there was a message inside.
As teachers we should never underestimate the negative or positive impact our words may have on our students. I now realize the true impact that this profession can have and the lasting impression it has had on me.