One of the best parts of my job is visiting schools, here in Toronto-St. Paul’s and in every province and territory. The students are amazing and inspiring. Their insightful observations and questions, together with their ‘out of the mouths of babes’ candour, demonstrate that Prime Minister Trudeau is right; youth are not just our future, but our present. They are our conscience.
Equally inspiring are the grown-ups that get to go to school every day! Last month Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher in the Inuit community of Salluit, Quebec, won the Global Teachers award – the best teacher in the world is Canadian!
In Finland, teaching is the most revered profession and the toughest to get into. Finland has it right. They understand that the education sector produces our most valued commodity – the human capital that determines the well-being and prosperity of a country.
Coast to coast to coast, and especially in indigenous communities, . That ability to inspire the ‘love of learning’ is magic. It is especially important that children have effective teachers to help them transition from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. Those are very special teachers who are able to find and flip that switch that opens a child to the world of books and stories and literacy. Dr. Julia O’Sullivan, the former Dean of Education at O.I.S.E., calls them the ‘neurosurgeons’ of education!
We need teachers who love math and can make the love of math contagious, teachers who can hook kids on the mystery and mastery of science. We need teachers who can find the artists and musicians in a classroom. We know now how important it is for children to learn the social sciences; about the human condition, mental health and healthy relationships. It is always exciting to find the teachers who love politics and instill the importance of community engagement and leadership in their students.
Just last month, it was in Ms. Donovan’s Grade 1 classroom at Oriole Park School in my neighbourhood that I couldn’t believe how things were really changing. I was invited as a guest for their unit on “leadership”. Councillor Josh Matlow and School Trustee Shelley Laskin had already been to visit. Bruce Rovers, the Director of Covenant House, had visited, and the kids had already launched a fundraising drive! The students had prepared tough questions for me. They wanted to know what I thought it meant to be a leader. They asked what the toughest part of being a leader was, and what the best part was. They wanted examples. This from Grade One students! I loved every minute.
I used to get irritated when people complained that Justin Trudeau was “only a teacher”. I now feel pride as our Prime Minister teaches the world the importance of inclusion, sunny ways, and that ‘better is always possible’.
As a family-practice resident, one of my favourite professors reminded us that we all had to become good teachers. It was our job to teach anatomy, physiology, and pathology to our patients. We had to impart an understanding of how our bodies work, and the warning signals of ‘body betrayal’. Even in politics, the greatest compliment I receive is to be described as a good listener and compassionate teacher.
Last month, I was honoured to participate with over 800 indigenous educators at their conference in Calgary. They know how important their job is. As Senator Murray Sinclair says about the way forward from the legacy of residential schools, “education is what got us into this mess. And education will get us out”. That is true for the role that non-indigenous Canadians will play in the journey of reconciliation. It will be the teachers and students in classrooms across Canada who will move us forward. Schools and camps have always been the loci of consciousness-raising – from recycling to smoking, inclusion to reconciliation. And now, hopefully, they can begin the important project of inspiring bright students to become teachers!
Published in the April issue of Streeter newspaper (formally ‘The Town Crier’)
A student asks me about leadership during a visit to Ms. Donovan’s Grade 1 class at Oriole Park Public School.