I kind of fell into the whole teaching thing. It was never my plan to be a teacher. I had no desire to attend teacher’s college. In fact, when I was growing up, I was never really even that fond of school. I liked to learn, but was more self-guided. I didn’t enjoy the structure of school; my attention span was far too short for long, boring lectures and 2 hour exams.

But, 20 years on in my career, here I am. A teacher.

Math sucks. Mr. Hanley was my Math teacher in Grade 11. I despised Math. I was lousy at it, it ruined my A average, and it was all I could do to muster up the energy to go to class. I’ll never forget my first day of Grade 11. I was in a brand new school, thousands of kilometres away from where I’d spent most of my childhood, and I was miserable. I walked into Mr. Hanley’s math class with a sense of dread. I didn’t know anyone, and I was convinced that I was going to flunk.

I was sombrely sitting at my desk, hatching my plan to escape out the window when suddenly, the door of the classroom opened and Mr. Hanley walked in, with a very serious look on his face. He resembled a younger, more conservatively dressed version of Dr. Johnny Fever from the 70s TV show, WKRP in Cincinnati. He shot a death dart glance around the room and the class went silent. I wondered which of the windows I should make a break for. Mr. Hanley quietly sat down at his desk. He sorted papers and shuffled paper clips for what seemed an eternity. Then, ever so slowly, he reached for his desk drawer. You could hear a pin drop. He carefully pulled out a baseball hat, and put it on. I quickly realized that this was no ordinary baseball hat. It had a brim about a foot long. On the front of the hat were two giant, Disney-esque cartoon eyes. Stuck to the brim were two large, white felt teeth. On the sides of the hat were pasted two long, floppy ears. It was Goofy.

Then, with a completely straight face, Mr. Hanley said, “So, are we ready to do some Math?”

I think we all have a teacher in our past that made an impact on us. Mr. Hanley was that teacher for me. Not only was he a laid back guy, but he treated each one of his students like a real person. We weren’t “dumb kids” in his eyes. He knew we all had infinite potential. Each day he showed up to class, Mr. Hanley had a smile on his face, and a sparkle in his eye. You could tell he just loved to teach. And even though I still hated Math, I didn’t mind going to his class, because he was simply a joy to be around. He not only helped me to “get” fractions, he helped me to understand that it was okay to be an awkward teenager. That even though I might struggle with stuff, that I was fine just the way I was. He helped me realize that challenges are part of life, and if I just try, I could make it. I got a B in his class, and I know that it wasn’t because I was any good at Math. It’s because Mr. Hanley’s passion made me want to succeed, so I tried harder.

Let’s not forget why we’re here. Another school year has started. If you’re a post-secondary teacher like me, you’re swamped. You’ve got dozens of new students, and not a whole lot of time to learn their names, let alone what makes each one tick. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of class prep, marking and administration. It can feel like you’re on autopilot, just trying to make it through another class.

Stop.

Step back for a minute. Forget the prep and the admin for a minute. Like Seth says, don’t rehearse so much. Take a deep breath. Your students are not looking for someone who will just recite facts at the front of the class and slap marks on the top of their pages. They are looking to you to give them an experience that will help them to expand. They are looking to you to share what you know. And that doesn’t come from a PowerPoint slide. It comes from YOU.

The true love of teaching for me, is not in standing at the front of my class spewing information. It’s in sitting down beside someone and letting them show me what they’ve achieved. It’s in the conversations that happen before, and after, and during class. It’s in the Skype conversation I had with one of my students at 11pm last night, because he was excited to talk about a video he came across. And mostly, it’s in knowing that, in my own small way, I’ve been able to help some people realize their potential, like Mr. Hanley did for me.

That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what makes me show up to class even after I’ve already worked a 10 hour day.

Thanks, Mr. Hanley, wherever you are. You taught me what it means to be a good teacher. And I aspire to be like you every time I walk into a classroom.

Now, where did I put my Goofy hat?

[image credit: Patrick Haney on Flickr]