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Getting Re-Engaged in School

My mother is a primary school teacher. Like many teachers, she brought a lot of her job home with her, and that played a major part in my identity. I don’t know if it’s cheating to choose her as a teacher who inspired me, but it becomes very hard to determine where the parent ends and the teacher begins.

Being raised by a teacher is a very particular type of childhood. I always seem to have an inherent bond with any other teacher’s child I meet; I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a “15 things only teacher’s children get” Buzzfeed article about it.

Naturally, the schoolyard rules enforced at home are always the first signs of a teacher-parent. If you see a parent walking down a street with their children walking in single-file line behind them, you can almost always bet that parent is a teacher. If an adult raises their hand to interrupt a conversation, there’s a pretty good chance one of their parents was a teacher. Fortunately, my mother brought much more than compliance home with her.

My mother placed an extremely high value on learning at home. She seemed to know the answers to every question my obnoxiously inquisitive younger self had, but not only would she give me an answer, she would do her best to ensure that I actually understood it.

In the rare events that she didn’t have the answer, we would go look through her books for an answer, and there were many, many books. As a child, I didn’t realize the value of a parent not only tolerating the torrent of questions I had, but willing to put in such a committed effort to find the answers.

And don’t get me started on how amazing it was to have access to pretty much every book from my mom’s stash of free samples given to her by publishers.

For my first two years in school, I was in my mom’s room at school. We seemed to quite quickly settle on an unspoken agreement that I could do whatever I wanted provided I didn’t get in her way teaching the rest of the class.

Once I moved on to being taught by other teachers however, I had a lot of difficulty conforming to the structure of a regular school day in a way that most of the kids had already adjusted to. Because the entirety of my schooling to that point had been open and unstructured, it was a culture shock to discover that there was a “wrong way” to learn.

I spent more time trying to pretend I was paying attention than I spent learning in school. For the next few years, my academic performance was let’s just say, below average.

About halfway through fifth grade, my sixty-something-year-old teacher retired and was replaced by Mr. Boyle, a recent graduate in his first ever full-time position. I honestly can’t say whether it was that the older teachers I had before were especially out-of-touch or he was unusually enthusiastic, but Mr. Boyle brought a total shakeup to the class structure.

Having the class chant something repeatedly until it was ingrained in their heads, but had lost all meaning (is this still a thing? I hope it isn’t!) was discontinued. Mr. Boyle replaced this childish approach with incentives and variety. Nearly every day would have a half hour allotted to things that were considered “unnecessary (but encouraged)” in the curriculum; the bits and pieces of drama in particular helped me come back out of my shell and express my thoughts and ideas within the class environment.

Art finally evolved from “color in this picture” to include several types of crafts where the focus was as much on figuring out how to use the materials as what you actually produced. Of course, I had a long string of overly ambitious unfinished projects, but to this day, I still play around with the crafts I first encountered there.

Most importantly, Mr. Boyle seemed to have an understanding that if I was learning and not disrupting, there was no need to force me into adhering to a certain style. I was granted a level of trust that I felt a need to prove was worthwhile.

With Mr. Boyle’s cultural and structural changes, I was suddenly participating in class in a way I never had up to that point. My academic performance turned around, as I remembered I could love learning things taught in school and that there was no right way to learn.

In the years that followed, my relationships with teachers continued to be erratic, but I credit Mr. Boyle with getting me re-engaged in school. I’m forever grateful to him.

By: Padraig Flood
Front-end Intern @ Kiddom