My First and Greatest Teacher – My Mom

I’ve been saving this one for today.

Many educators write about their role models – those amazing people who we aspire to be. I’ve read many posts by teachers who want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those wonderful people they respect and admire. There is always at least one person that inspired us to follow the career path that leads into the classroom.

For me, that person was my mother.

I loved school when I was little.  I was a quiet, shy, little girl and I found everything about school very easy. I thrived with kind and caring teachers. I remember sitting at my desk looking out the window at the rainy day beyond with a feeling of safety and contentment.

I also learned at home, as all children do, but my experience was different from most. My mother returned to finish her teaching degree when I was seven. My younger brother and I became her ‘guinea pigs’ as she tried various teaching strategies, etc. on us before trying them with her students. I remember sitting at the kitchen table doing art projects, science experiments and various other activities with her.

Mom earned her degree, chose a grade two position in a small town and we moved there the summer before I entered grade four. Unfortunately, my school experiences during the next two years were almost the exact opposite of what I had previously enjoyed. I was the ‘city slicker’ and excluded by my classmates from the start. The only happy memories from school at that time are focussed on academic successes.

Many years ago, as a student teacher, I completed an assignment based on my memories of school. The purpose of the assignment was to make connections between early learning experiences and the emerging belief system we were developing as new teachers. At that time, research reminded me that the learning methods widely used when I was a child involved sitting, reading quietly at a desk, and learning by writing answers to questions in a text or workbook and rote learning.

I remember thinking that that didn’t sound like the kind of classroom that would create a love of learning! It certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned for my future students! Where did my concept of what a classroom should be like come from? 

I love active learning and getting my students involved. I am passionate about helping them discover new interests. I was confused about my success as a child in what I now perceived to be a stale learning environment which didn’t resemble my beliefs at all. Perhaps I had been successful largely because I was well behaved, a strong reader and an independent learner? At the time, I was also perplexed by the fact that although I strongly disliked school after moving, my love of learning continued throughout my intermediate years and beyond. It did not seem to make much sense. 

It was at that point that I realized my love of learning and my teaching style came from my mother.

Through that assignment years ago, I came to the important realization that my most cherished memories of learning were when I learned with my mother. I have many happy memories collecting shells at the beach, finger painting at the kitchen table and hours spent reading with and to my mom. I also realized that my varied interests, from science experiments, to a love of literature and a passion for art were the result of her influence. She had always taken an interest in my likes and dislikes. With gentle and caring encouragement, she helped me to follow my dreams, however varied they were, and no matter how often they changed.

I love learning in general and in a variety of ways and in a variety of subject areas thanks to my mom:  my first and greatest teacher.  She was the reason I wanted to become a teacher and she, as a mother and as a teacher, shaped my beliefs about teaching and learning. Her equivalent of a value statement, which was always at the front of her daybook, is incorporated into my teaching philosophy. She continued as my mentor throughout teacher training and during those first few years at the start of my teaching career. Her support was priceless.

My teaching remains completely student-centered and I still prefer active, hands-on learning largely because of her. I have a strong personal background and an intense passion for a variety of subjects because of her. Now I gently encourage my students to pursue their interests and discover passion in life, as she did with me. If I can be half the teacher she was, I’ll consider myself a success.

My mother was an educator for 22 years and was a master of her craft. As good as she was at teaching (and she was excellent), she was a better mom. She died six years ago, a slow, painful death from a horrible disease. I miss her so much, and in so many ways, sometimes grieving as a daughter, other times wishing I could consult with my teacher-mentor/mom. Her immediate effect on my teaching and my life is gone, but her influence is firmly woven into my teaching, my learning, my everything.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. This one was for you.