A good teacher can change a life

It takes a special person to be a teacher. They spend hours marking assignments and patiently explaining concepts.

It takes a special person to be a teacher. They spend hours marking assignments and patiently explaining concepts. Often, the students don’t immediately understand, so they continue to explain, using analogies, mnemonics, or anything else they can think of. Finally, the teacher’s work pays off. The student understands.

I couldn’t do it.

A really good teacher can spot a special interest, sometimes even before the student has. By nurturing this interest, they can change the student’s life forever.

I was lucky enough to have a teacher like this when I was in Grade 5. Her name was Mrs. Kostyniuk. From the minute I stepped in her classroom, I could tell she was different from other teachers I’d had.

Mrs. Kostyniuk was an older lady with short, dark curls, and a high-pitched voice. She wore a suit with a matching skirt and jacket, and even to my 10-year-old self, she was short.

After we had settled into our seats, she asked us how we were.

“Good,” we chorused.

“No,” she said. “You are not good. Good is for food. You are very well, thank you. Now let’s try that again. How are you?”

“Very well, thank you,” we answered.

It was the first of several changes. We were used to feedback on our homework only. We thought that by having generally good behaviour, we would not be critiqued. We were wrong.

One day, we were called to a school assembly. We headed down to the gym, shuffling our feet. When we reached the doors, Mrs. Kostyniuk turned around.

She told us to “walk with a purpose”, and demonstrated how, by “walking with your head held high and a smile on your face”. She sent us back to the classroom, and we all walked with a purpose down to the gym again.

Mrs. Kostyniuk also had us keep a weekly journal. I wrote an entry about some classroom activity, and handed it in along with everyone else. In a week, Mrs. Kostyniuk announced she was handing our journals back. She kept a few to read to the class as examples, first reading the journal, then revealing the author.

From the first few words, I knew when she was reading mine. Like any 10-year-old girl, I was a little embarrassed to be singled out. When she finished reading, she praised my descriptive words.

Underneath my embarrassment, I felt proud. No one had ever complimented my writing before.

As the year progressed, we continued to write in our journals. Mrs. Kostyniuk often read mine (along with those of some classmates) to the class. I became more confident, and began to choose my words more carefully, trying to write something she would like.

Near the end of the year, she handed back our journals for the last time. She turned towards me after reading my latest entry, and told me I would be a writer when I grew up.

Twelve years later, I sit at my computer. A notebook filled with messy scribblings sits beside me. My hands are dotted with ink smears. A stack of newspapers with my byline sit in the next room.

She was right.

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