If you want to be immortal, be a great teacher. That’s what I believe anyway.
A few years ago, during my final year at university, I was struck with a existential crisis of sorts. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what came next. I suddenly had a choice about what to do next. Moreover, to my absolute horror, there was no set path in front of me. I had freedom – and that shook me to my core.
What would I do next? I studied what I loved and as expected, that left me with little to no job prospects. Considering my next steps, while fine-tuning my resume I was beginning to feel the pressure. I knew only one thing – I wanted to be “great”. Of course, I had no idea what being “great” meant, or how I was to get to said “greatness”, but I knew I wanted people to remember me. I wanted to be immortal.
I took me years to realize this, but I finally got there. Three years ago I started Holistic Learning Center, catering to students of all ages, abilities and needs. Finally I had found a purpose, I had found a way to make an impact. And then one day, someone described what I was doing as “changing lives”. I was helping student after student. Helping them find their voice, helping them learn to read and write, helping them pass an exam. To every one of those students, I would be remembered. And then it hit me…suddenly I was immortal.
Soon that got me thinking about all the great teachers I had had over the years, and how I never forgot them. In my classroom I keep their memories with me – how they spoke, how they laughed, how they taught, and most importantly, how they made me feel. They were immortal to me. They were great.
So here are a few tidbits from the teachers that made the most impact on me. Here’s a shout-out to some of my favorite teachers and how they helped me grow into the person, the educator that I am today.
To Those Who Laughed With Me
As a student it’s safe to say that I didn’t have the best school experiences. Often times I was not the smartest kid in class, and I was definitely the fastest learner. So many times I compensated for that lack of traditional intelligence by being funny – a “class clown” as they say. I loved to make people laugh. I loved to tell jokes, make funny faces and generally have fun – all innocent fun.
While most of my teachers frowned upon such behavior in class because it often disrupted the peace and quiet they tried so hard to achieve, there were some who saw past that outer shell, and simply let me be a child.
My favorite teachers laughed with me. Like Miss Garcia, a teacher who taught me in Standard One who’d join in the fun. A self proclaimed “Fries Thief” on Fridays when the cafeteria sold chicken and chips, she’d prowl around class and swipe a few off my classmates’ plates. Or Miss Harrilal who taught me in Reception (First Year) and seemed so happy to see me no matter how old I got, or how much trouble I got into.
At HLC I try to do the same with me students. I listen intently to their stories and laugh with them, poking fun and playing games. Thank you for teaching me the value of not taking yourself too seriously.
To Those Who Taught Me Balance
For as long as I could remember I’ve been teaching myself. As I mentioned previously, very rarely was I able to keep up with the class. Soon I developed the technique of taking scrap notes in class, and rewriting them when I got home. Then I began helping others with projects and practical assignments, with writing essays and proof-reading assignments. I didn’t get there by myself though. There were teachers who taught me how to study and the value of using multiple techniques to learn.
To Mrs. Mahadeo who in Form 4 took me aside and showed me how to use past papers to revise, thank you. She took time out of her lunchtime one day and we stood in a busy hallway. I remember her handing me a booklet of past-papers dating all the way back to 1996 and she showed me that every topic we studied had corresponding questions. I never did poorly on a biology test after that day.
Then there was Miss Yee-Ken who taught me for a short while in Form 5. She was a small, stern teacher but the kindness and care that I experienced from her has stayed with me to this day.
At the time I didn’t think much teachers cared about helping me, but she was one of the few who said “yes”. After doing badly from Forms 1-4 in mathematics, I began to teach myself in Form 5, determined to change the pattern in time for my C.S.E.C. examinations. She didn’t know me very well, and I’m sure what she did know of me didn’t win me “student of the year” in her books. Yet when I came to her one day, and asked her to correct some past papers I did, she didn’t hesitate. I’m pretty sure I handed her at least seven of them one day, and she didn’t even flinch. I got them back the next week with marks, comments and corrections. Thinking back, her kindness has shaped how I treat students who show enough motivation and initiative to hand in extra work and move beyond the syllabus at home.
Thank you for showing me the value of treating students with compassion and going the extra mile, even outside of the classroom when students show the initiative.
Finally, To Those Who Treated Me like a Human-Being
We sometimes forget that students are actually people – very much in the same way that we forget that teachers have lives outside of the classroom. School can be extremely dehumanizing for student; a battleground of “us” vs. “them”. The power dynamics can be stifling and frustrating, especially when you’re the underdog more times than not.
So to those teachers who treated my like a living, breathing, feeling human being – thank you. To Ms. Costelloe who sat and talked with me when I arrived early for lessons (even though I’m sure she had something more important to do) – thank you.
She never let me forget that I was worth something and that my dream of being a teacher wasn’t worthless like many others preached to me. She helped me see that I wasn’t alone, and that she too faced opposition throughout her teaching journey. At the time I doubted my path, my ability and my purpose, and while I’m sure she didn’t realize all of my internal struggle, the way she made me feel about myself is something I will never forget.
She was a person…and she treated me like I was a person too. If I didn’t know the answer to something, she wasn’t disappointed, she wasn’t ridiculing. Instead, she was nurturing and firm in her guidance. My format and style of teaching my older students is very much how she patterned her sessions. Giving them enough information to understand a topic, yet challenging them to assess, debate and think critically about topics. She has fostered in me the ability to be fair, liberating and human with my students.
Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you enjoyed a bit about me as a teacher, and how my journey has been shaped by some of my favorite teachers. Who are some of your favourite teachers? Comment below – I’d love to read about it.
Hannah Sundari Sammy
Founder & Tutor at Holistic Learning Center