This year marks the 27th anniversary of me becoming a teacher. There are many great memories of thoughtful and successful students, and rewarding lessons. However, there are also memories of discouraged students and wasted opportunities for my own learning. Hindsight has taught me to be more patient, attentive and perceptive with my students. It has also taught me that collaborating with my colleagues is a worthwhile pursuit in pursuit of becoming a better teacher.
In the beginning of my career I struggled to find the right balance with my students. When I taught ESL to youngsters overseas, I was sometimes too serious and lacked the sense of play and warmth that was sometimes required. When I returned to Canada and began teaching highschool I was sometimes cold and aloof. In trying to mask my self doubts, I attempted to keep the students at arms length. Since those early years I have learned to be more open with my students, and to be more empathetic to their needs and struggles. Students ask to work in my room at lunch, they ask for advice about course and post-secondary choices and know that I will listen to their concerns. I am a supervisor for sports, lunch time clubs – like GSA and Reach for the Top, and I will do crazy things to support our Cancer Drive. My classroom is a safe place regardless of whether it is real or virtual. I wish I could say it has always been that way. Yet, it is also a place where my fellow teachers, new or old, are also welcome.
Subsequently, it took me a long time to trust in my abilities and feel that I had something to offer my peers. I hated asking for help because I thought I would look like an amateur. When I moved schools I found a group of people who were warm and open, and they brought out the best in me. They supported me and helped me problem-solve. We created learning units together, helped students together, and improved the learning in our classrooms together. Eventually, I went to a 6 day Canadian History conference and made new contacts and friends. Now, I seek my own PD and work at sharing what I have learned with all my peers. I wish I had broken out of my shell earlier.
In the end, 2020 will truly be a year of hindsight, as I work to reach my students, deliver virtual lessons and maintain my collegial rapport. We don’t always start out perfect, and we make mistakes, but if my teaching career has taught me anything it is that we need to take care of ourselves and others. We need to be lifelong learners and we need to share our experiences to the betterment of others.
Vanessa Grabowski-Caddel, originally from Saskatoon, has been teaching with the RDSB in Sudbury since 1999. She loves history, sewing and her family – which also includes a lot of 4 legged and finned creatures.