The Mark You Get Isn't You

Hey there Shifters, Matt here with an interruption to your regular scheduled programming. You see, my fellow shifter, Jamie Mitchell was presented with a pretty huge honour today at school.  Some of you may have already heard that he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence Certificate of Achievement.  That is a kind of a big deal.  Out of thousands of nominations, only 10 teachers in Ontario were awarded that honour!  What I found really striking about the ceremony we just had at our school to mark the award, was in fact a student Maggi Djurdjevic.  

Maggi went to the considerable work (it is a 21 page application!) to nominate her teacher and she spoke eloquently on why she nominated Jamie for this honour.  She said that Jamie Mitchell was able to take a subject that she isn’t particularly strong in, math, and make that period the best part of her day.  That is pretty awesome!  Two more ideas really hit home with me when both she and Jamie spoke at the event.

IMG_1433.JPG
Jamie Mitchell accepting his award from
the student that nominated him, Maggi Djurdjevic.

First, I really saw the importance of connections.  Jamie’s high school drama teacher was in attendance at the ceremony and Jamie told the story of how he got suspended in high school (for using some less than favourable language when sticking up for students he felt weren’t being treated properly).  When he was suspended, he told his drama teacher with a heavy heart that he was going to miss some rehearsals because of his suspension and his drama teacher told him “This is why you will be a good teacher, because you will stand up for people for others who need support”.  That powerful connection that teachers and educators can make with their students, recognizing their talents, pumping them up, and engaging with them as fellow humans on the same journey of life can make such a huge impact on students’ lives.  I remember a similar moment of connection in grade 9, when Mrs. McCarthy, my art teacher, pulled me aside at the end of the year and pumped me up about my potential as an artist and offered me some art supplies to work with over the summer.  A small gesture, with a profound effect.  Time and time again, you hear that these are the stories being shared about the high school experience.  Not the course, the project, the mark, but the relationships, the small conversations, that have can have life changing ripple effects in people’s lives.  How about you?  Do you have a similar story of connection in your high school experience?  I am going to make it my goal next year to reach out to students one on one, acknowledge their greatness and show my appreciation for good deeds and good people.  I think people can stand to hear more of that.

The second thought that really struck me was something that Jamie said when he spoke (off the cuff, I might add, mighty impressed!).  He talked about a conversation he had with Maggi over how she was doing in class and he told her “The Mark you get isn’t you.  How you approach life is YOU.”  I would love to have more students hear that message!  With so much importance placed on the mark in this education system of ours, it is a real barrier to real, joyful learning.  It blocks true risk taking as a learner, because the students’ concern for that mark causes them to play the game of school to maximize their mark, not to go deeper in their learning.  It also creates a divide in the relationship between teacher and student, as we are responsible for assigning a number to their efforts.  This gets in the way of true mentorship that a teacher could offer students as they learn.  I’d love to get to a place where we can more readily focus on the learner and the learning and not the mark.  We should be placing more importance on resilience, risk taking, impassioned learning as ways to approach learning and to approach life. How about you? How often do you find the mark getting in the way of these goals?  

Congratulations Jamie, on this huge honour!  I’m pretty proud of you, fellow Shifter!