Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tribute to a Great Teacher

Every so often a wise old owl flies into your life and roosts there for a while. Such a person was Clara Manifest.* Several years ago I had the privilege of team teaching a class of students with academic, emotional and behavioural challenges with Clara. She had been teaching children with academic and behavioural challenges for thirty years and wisdom was oozing out of her pours. I was thrilled to be able to soak in as much of that wisdom as I could.
Clara knew that you can’t make a square peg fit through a round hole and when you try you only succeed in frustrating yourself and those around you. It is pointless to push your students if they are going through horrible experiences at home or if their medications aren’t working the way that they should,. You are wiser to give them the support and compassion that they need, tolerate the behaviour as best you can and somehow get through the day.
Clara believed that a gentle answer quiets anger. When the tempers flared and the behaviours got interesting Clara lowered her voice and talked very slowly. It usually calmed the situation.
Clara was a confident person who didn’t take peoples’ behaviours personally. When the children yelled, swore or threw things, she realized it was a reflection on them, not a reflection on her teaching.
No matter what a person said or did, Clara did not hold a grudge. When a student lashed out at her, Clara gave the student time to regain control, then she sat with the child and discussed where the child went wrong and then assured him or her of his worth as a person.
She was kind and firm at the same time. I never heard the children accuse Clara of being a mean or frightening teacher but they sensed that she meant business.
Clara knew that giving children responsibilities went a long way toward developing their sense of self-worth. In her class there were always fish to feed, hamster cages to clean, and other chores that had to be done for the good of the group.
Clara was emotionally involved with her students. Sometimes when we talked about the struggles that a child was going through her eyes became teary and her voice cracked. She also appreciated the therapeutic value of laughter. Many days we would get to the end of the day, the children all went home and we sat and had a hearty chuckle about the events of the day. When we saw the humour in a situation we had the strength to come back and start over again the next day.
While I worked with her nothing cleansed my soul more than pouring my heart out to Clara. She was one of the giants of the teaching profession and I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to sit at her feet and glean from her wisdom.

*Clara’s name has been changed out of respect for her humble spirit.

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