On Family Day weekend, I was at a community center with the family when I noticed something eerily familiar about an old man across the room. He was sitting with a teenager. They were engrossed in the contents of a book spread between them. I must have been staring, because I began to catch wisps of the conversation – they were talking about parabolas! It was then that I realized who he was: my high school math teacher, whom I have not seen in 17 years!
Strangely enough, I had been thinking about Mr. C recently, not so much for his math lessons nor for the lunch hours we spent in his classroom writing math contests (which were extremely fun), but for something he once told us: that when something bad happens, one should not get too sad, since one never knows if something good will come from it, and conversely, one should good happens in life, we should not be overly happy, since one never knows if something bad will come from it. I did not realize it then, but it was my first lesson in stoicism and I’m now more able to appreciate this world view with age and experience.
Shortly before returning to work from maternity leave last year, I stopped by my former high school to donate some things from my household Konmari purge. Quite accidentally, I found out that my retired English teacher was still working there in another role and took the chance to reconnect. Catching up with him after so many years was cathartic (a word, by the way, which I learned from him). His parting gift to me, a copy of Don Quixote, which he was convinced was the best book in the world (and he read A LOT!), is also one of the books I have learned to appreciate more with age and experience.
Perhaps in part due to the mentorship of good teachers, teaching as a profession is something that I have been interested in for a long time. Frustratingly, the education departments responsible for training teachers at the time I graduated were not flexible enough to recognize my credentials for teaching biology. At that point in my life, I was tired of jumping through hoops and found other avenues to pursue my interests. Ironically, as a graduate student, I was invited to volunteer to teach teacher candidates how to teach science from one of the programs that refused to admit me.
Becoming a parent renewed my interest in education, but my interest has matured. While my earlier interest was driven by passing on my knowledge and enthusiasm for a subject, and now, my interest now lies in how education impacts the development of the person. I strongly believe that a child’s education begins at home while fully recognizing that there are ways that teachers impact children in ways no parent can, given the teaching opportunities that come from class dynamics and group interactions. When I I look back on what I learned most from these two teachers almost 20 years later, what they have taught me went far beyond their subject of specialization and their lessons impact you for the rest of your life. That, perhaps, is the best measure of a good teacher.