It’s that time of year where we pay tribute to the teachers who spent the last 10 months with our children. My kids had wonderful teachers, and that got me thinking about my own superstars – the ones who stood out from the rest and taught me things that have been incredibly useful in real life.

In the spirit of another year of schooling under our belts, I’m sharing lessons from 6 incredible teachers.

  1. Mrs. Humphreys (Gr. 1 and Gr. 2) taught me that I could love reading as much as I wanted to. I could read all the books in my grade and in the next grade, and that was just fine. I could read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the class, and that was no problem, too. I was in charge of how many words I wanted to devour. I still am, and I am grateful for the freedom in that. Also, she hugged her students all the time, especially when we wore velour. It was the mid-80’s and there was a lot of leftover velour from the previous decade.
  2. Ms. Espenant (Gr. 6) showed me the power of kindness. She gave me a taste of what it felt like to give and receive compliments by engaging her students in a regular program where we did just that. I still have all my compliments in my scrapbook, written by my peers, telling me why I’m awesome. She was fair and always smiling, and she never missed an opportunity to laugh with us.
  3. Ms. Niek (now Dr. Popadiuk, Gr. 8) was the teacher I hung out with at the first football game of the season because I had no friends at my new school in a new part of town. When I looked at the pretty cheerleaders and sighed and said, “I wish I was more like those girls,” she was quick to tell me, “No, you don’t,” and I think she made it her personal mission to make me feel great about being who I am – for years to come. She encouraged me to write, helped me discover the magic in journaling, ate lunch with me when I had nobody to eat lunch with, consoled me when I had my heart broken and so much more. She was a true champion of my worth.
  4. Mr. Bowen (Gr. 8-10) was my band teacher. Oh my God, I loved his class. He made me feel like I was a rockstar with my sax, complimenting my vibrato (which was my nerves in disguise) and giving me and my friend, Jen, an amazing opportunity to play solos in one of our first concerts. He helped me discover how much I love making music with other people, and sharing that music on stage. I miss my band days. If there was something I could add to my life it would be an ensemble of music-lovers. But I don’t know where we’d find a better conductor.
  5. Mr. Dyck and Mr. Kamide (Gr. 9 and 10) were my teachers in the Incentive program I was a part of. This was basically a unique program for Math, Science, Socials Studies and English where we took the curriculum and learned it in incredible ways. I’m lumping them together because they were an amazing team and I know so many of their Incentive students hold them dear in their hearts. Mr. Dyck called us his little chickadees – and even at 15 years of age, those words made us feel warm and fuzzy. He also told me I was a sensitive writer which made no sense to me then, but does now. He brought in guest speakers who did incredible things all around the world, people who reformed their lives, people from all walks who had a lesson to share. It was in his classroom that I first heard Mark Twain’s quote: “Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education.” Mr. Kamide liked us to learn by doing, by role playing, by stepping into the shoes of other people. In his class I gave a presentation from the point of view of a First Nations person; I could barely get through it. My throat closed up. I was so emotional. And it was the perfect way to feel the plight of what others have gone through. Nobody can learn those things from a textbook. Mr. Kamide pushed us to feel things, not just memorize them.

There is one other teacher who I won’t name because I don’t feel it’s right. He was my teacher in Gr. 7, and those of you who have read some of my previous work or heard me speak on stage know that he was the teacher who shut me down when I tried to defend my religion against the backdrop of the Gulf War. Today I remember him in gratitude. If he hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have a powerful introduction to the messages I bring to the stage. I’m not saying what he did was right, or that any teacher should strive to bring their students down in order to build them up. But he was a part of shaping me and I don’t think his role was negative.

There are more teachers – the one whose name I cannot remember for the life of me, who led the International Issues Club when I was in high school. I loved meeting weekly with him and other like-minded students who gave a darn about what was happening in the world. I am thankful that he took his lunch hour to motivate and inspire us.

Gosh, I didn’t think writing this post would make me cry. I hope my children go through their schooling with the kind of compassion, encouragement, support and enthusiasm that I was shown. I so badly want this for my children because I know it’s the type of experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Mrs. Humphreys, Ms. Espenant, Dr. Popadiuk, Mr. Bowen, Mr. Dyck and Mr. Kamide – you, simply, rock.

To all you teachers who truly love and respect our children, and want to show them the magic in learning, thank you. You rock, too.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative