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May 21, 2014


Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

by Peter Skillen

Peter dunlace 1970Hey teacher. Think you don’t have impact? Think again.

I had lunch yesterday with a former student of mine. It was my first year teaching. I was 21. She was 10. It was the early seventies. It was some forty years ago.

She proceeded to tell me how I changed her life through an art lesson on perspective and, specifically, on ‘how to see’ and to draw a tree. Her description was detailed and formidable. The actions I suggested and the emotions created in her changed the way she has looked at things since.

This former charge of mine then continued with countless other intricate stories of her learning and my teaching. I listened in amazement—and, admittedly, with much pleasure.

One of the things she said she loved most was that I was present. I listened and genuinely seemed to care.

I was flattered at having such a profound impact on this person.

Not All Good

But, I know, it wasn’t like that for all students in my classes throughout the years. I am sure not all had the benefit of my good side. What about those times when my weaknesses were in play?

My moodiness.

My skilful switchblade of sarcasm.

My impatience and dreadful dismissiveness.

What about those times?

What impact did that have on some children?

Hey teacher. Choose your impact.


14 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 21 2014

    Peter, I love this post … not only because of the wonderful story you shared (and I’m sure that there are many more former students that feel exactly the same way), but also because of your important reminders at the end. I can’t help but think of my principal, Paul’s, final words on the announcements each day: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!” I think of these words often throughout the day, and your post is making me think of them more!


    • May 22 2014

      Thank you, Aviva, for this comment.

      You know, I wish it were as easy as we suggest—’choose’ to have a good day and ‘choose your impact’. The literature—psychological and philosophical—is full of discussion on the existence of ‘free will’. The debate continues to this day. But, yes, it is an ideal worth pursuing.

      Thanks you!

      • May 22 2014

        You know, when I wrote this yesterday, I realized that—once again—mindfulness plays a powerful role. We must practice it regularly. No, actually, it simply must become a ‘way of being’ lest it be merely a contrived exercise. Having said that, I think that there are techniques or exercises worth practising to cement that more mindful way of being.

        Certainly, one thing I have worked hard at is ‘taking the pause’ before I react. When a student, or other, causes an emotion that might quickly draw an action, I’ll do my best to take a few seconds to observe it, to set my ego aside, and to look deeper at the stimulus causing the emotional reaction. Then, I am better prepared to behave with a reasoned response.

      • May 22 2014

        I’d like to think that it is that easy! I know that on some days it doesn’t seem to be, Peter, but when problems arise, if I take a few minutes, calm down, and start again, the day does improve. That has to mean something.


  2. May 21 2014

    If I was a betting man, I’d lay odds that there are many more former students of yours with similar stories my friend. 🙂 BTW love the retro pic young fella! Guess how old I was in 1970….

    • May 22 2014

      Thanks Colin! I’d like to think so—but, alas, I know there were moments! 😉

      As for your age in 1970…I’d have to go into negative numbers!! LOL


  3. May 22 2014

    Great post Peter and I agree with others…I’m sure that although you have doubts, your impact was overwhelmingly positive, just as it still is today! You are my teacher for so many things so I know! 🙂 Love the pic too….and I was around in 1970…I could have had you as a first year teacher!

  4. May 22 2014

    Thx Brenda!

    Thank you also for the original idea to write a post about that meeting and the impact. Glad to have followed up on it! 🙂

    We are very lucky to learn so much from each other as we struggle and battle with our ‘deep dives’ into ideas.

    Yes, you just about fit into that demographic of my first year students! LOL

  5. May 26 2014

    This has been so touching and moralising to read, Peter. Thanxxx for the positive vibes in times of prevalent teacher burnout across the globe …

    I feel soooo very blessed to be following your posts and to have stumbled on you. Let me chip in with this little treat, which comes packed with my deep appreciation all the way from Thessaloniki, Greece. Take very good care and keep inspiring us all 🙂

    • May 26 2014

      Thank you again Anna! That means more to me than you know.

      So here’s a funny story! My colleague and I hired Taylor Mali to entertain us at our conference here in Ontario some 5 years ago or so!! Hilarious!

      smiles to you

      • May 26 2014

        It’s a small world we all share, isn’t it? I’m so glad about this coincidence, too, Peter! 🙂

        Well, who knows? I might as well join one of your conferences in the future, then, now that my sister’s settled in Toronto. Remember last year when I contacted you through LinkedIn about her young kids’ EFL options prior to their settlement? Can’t forget how truly eager to help out you were back then! Let’s hope I’ll be able to visit Canada sometime soon …

        Smiles back, then, over the … miles and waves,


  6. May 26 2014

    I definitely do remember, Anna! I’m glad she is settled here in Toronto. It is a great city in so many ways—although we did have a heck of a winter! 🙂 (I personally loved it!)

    I have never been to Greece although we almost settled there instead of Canada back in the 50’s. My dad sailed on Greek merchant ships as the radio officer and we were offered the opportunity to settle in Greece. However, we moved to Canada and he gave up his marine career at that point.

    But, there is more to the story.

    He got very ill in the mid seventies and wanted to return to sea before he passed. Dad contacted the Greek ship owner – after 20 years – and he was assigned a radio officer position on a ship. Immediately! Dad sailed around the world for one more year (I had the opportunity to join the ship for a week) and then he came home. He passed shortly after that.

    Needless to say, all of that has given me one BIG SOFT spot for all things Greek.

    Smiles to you!

  7. May 26 2014

    One more thing I want to add, Anna. Teaching in Ontario – although not quite as awesome as it used to be (from my perspective) – is still phenomenal.

    I am so glad that our Ministry of Education is collegial, inclusive and respectful of teachers and all stakeholders.

    It hurts me to see what is happening in many other jurisdictions.


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