What is a teacher? That was the question posed by Mary Anne Chambers in the inspirational speech she gave York’s Faculty of Education graduands after she received an honorary doctor of laws degree at the Spring Convocation ceremony Friday morning.
Chambers was recognized for her community leadership and her long history of advocating for children and youth, particularly those who have been marginalized within our social and educational systems.
According to Chambers, a job description couldn’t possibly capture what is expected of a teacher, so she answered her own question by providing numerous examples of teachers she has been touched by, who have gone above and beyond their basic job requirements to make a positive impact on the lives of their students.
She spoke of teachers at the Brookside Youth Centre – a correctional facility in Cobourg, Ont. – who compress their curriculum and partner with local tradespeople to ensure that youth leave with at least one new high school credit in addition to marketable skills. “The ultimate objective is that the youth leave the centre better equipped to succeed in the real world,” said Chambers to the graduating class.
She mentioned the teacher who kindly waited with her granddaughters when she was a few minutes late picking them up from cross country practice, and a principal who acted as a confidant and counsellor to a student who went through a traumatic personal event and didn’t feel comfortable speaking to anyone else about it. “I hope today’s graduands will have the wisdom to recognize that sometimes their students might need additional help in order to be successful, help that might not be available in their classroom.”
Chambers spoke of her daughter-in-law who teaches outdoor education at a high school, and how she was approached by a parent of one of the more challenging students who said that her programming had resulted in extremely positive changes in his formerly unmotivated and uninspired son. She spoke of some missed opportunities, too, when additional student assistance could have been available for struggling students if only the teacher had acknowledged the need and requested the resources.
“Will you be willing to reach out and to find a way to be a partner and a mediator, or perhaps even a consultant or coach, for your students, so that together you can provide the kind of support your students might need to be successful?” she asked.
To cap off her heartfelt speech, Chambers left York’s potential future educators with one final answer to her question and some last words of encouragement.
“If we exclude parenting from being classified as a profession, what other profession plays such a significant, impactful and pivotal role in the development of a human being?” she asked the audience. “I will suggest to you that a teacher is a very, very special person who has chosen not a job or an occupation, but someone – a professional – who has chosen to accept a most noble calling. And in return for accepting that calling, I wish each of you who are graduating today great joy as you experience the impact that you can have on the human beings whose lives you will touch.”