As a young girl, I loved to play school. At home, we had little folding TV tables which were the desks. The outdoor lawn folding chairs fit perfectly under the TV tables. I made my friends and brother sit in rows as I handed out assignments and tests which they had to complete. I was Miss Suzie. If they wanted my attention, they had to sit quietly and raise their hands.
I wore pretend glasses and my hair was up in a bun. I needed to look and feel like a real old teacher. I sat at my desk or I walked up and down the rows. My students handed in their assignments; I corrected them and gave sticker stars as often as possible. I always played the role of teacher.
I was destined to be a teacher. I couldn’t imagine being anything else. Although, I wanted to be a ballerina too, I couldn’t commit to the rigors of the dance world. Teaching seemed like a more natural path for me.
At the tender age of 24, I started teaching at Trafalgar School for Girls, a high school in Montreal. The year was 1987. During my career I have taught at most levels, high school, elementary, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Now I am teaching adults at Concordia University and senior adults at Le Cummings Centre. The only age group I haven’t taught was Junior College or CEGEP.
When I started teaching my goal was to give my students as much guidance, assistance and information as possible. I thought of myself as the dispenser of information. The more I teach, the more I realized that my students are the greater dispensers of information.
Early on in my career I decided to never correct with a red pen. I adopted the green pen as my tool for suggested editing and corrections. Nowadays, I use a pencil as my editing suggestions are often changed by me. A pencil allows me the opportunity to correct my corrections and make suggestions which my students might or might not accept. I have become a totally flexible teacher.
One of the greatest aspects of being a teacher is being in an environment where I am constantly learning from my students. Of course I provide the learning materials, guidance and suggested corrections, but my students provide me with their professional growth and creativity. I am always in the line of BRILLANT CREATIVE FIRE!
Never do I wake up in the morning and say, “Ugh, I have to teach today.” I wake up with first cleansing my mind, then filling it with that day’s new learning materials. I still get butterflies in my stomach right before my class begins. I feel like a professional athlete on Game Day! You would think after teaching for 33 years the butterflies would settle down…Nope!
My classes are always a joy to me. But… every once in a while, something happens which reminds me why I love teaching so much. A student reads something, sings something or creates something special which makes the class think even harder than before. It’s like magic enters the classroom and everyone feels it.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave my Cummings Centre creative writing students a writing assignment. I asked them to write about Love and Gratitude. For example, send a letter to someone and tell them about your love and gratitude for them.
My talented Cummings Centre student Natalie Segall prepared a poem to read to our class:
I am grateful for a summer day along with fall and winter, spring
I am grateful for a chocolate fountain, for oceans and my wedding ring
I am grateful for the rise and set, of past and present with no guarantee of yet to come
I am grateful when my fever breaks and my mind and body are at one
For those no longer here to love, for those away, gone or dead
I am grateful for the time we had, and I grieve for the many words unsaid
I am grateful for the furry beings who chose me, on whom to bestow their magnificence
I am grateful for the air I breathe, for sound, for sight, for calm silence
For all the many roads I’ve trod and for all the adventures left ahead
I go forth unabashedly, without fear, delay or dread
I am grateful I can hear a song, and grateful still that I can sing
I am grateful for the ones I now love, for they, to me, mean everything
I am grateful for so much more than my mere mortal words can declare
I am most grateful for life itself, for there is truly nothing other that compares
— Natalie Segall
You can imagine the impact this poem had on our classmates. Natalie read her poem and everyone sat still, revisiting the words in our heads before we could speak. Her level of gratitude was outstanding. She covered all the bases with a home run!
We were all able to relate and appreciate her perspective. More so, I felt the need to share this poem with my readership. It was too grand to be left in her computer hard drive. These words and their meanings needed to be shared as far as it could. To give everyone the opportunity to reflect upon their own gratitude.
Are you grateful like Natalie’s poem? I promise to try harder. I will try harder to be more grateful.
This is the gift of teaching. I know teaching is hard work and usually with little pay for all the extra efforts and beyond efforts and beyond stickered efforts. However, it all comes together as a gift back to you when your students give you so much in their growth, success and gratitude.
I look forward to continuing to teach Natalie. I look forward to listening to more of her work and creativity. I especially look forward to Natalie teaching me.
Thank you. Thank you to all my students for enriching my career and life.
— By Suzanne Reisler Litwin