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Taking a compliment can be tough for teachers


February 1, 2022 Dan Hoch, Special to the ATA News

I had just finished taking notes on “Carrie,” one of my very keen but anxious student teachers. She was the quintessential newbie, wanting to lead the class but worried she might lose them all with her next utterance. It reminded me of my own experiences as a practicum teacher, that blend of nervousness and excitement. This would be worth sharing in our debrief. 

After I made some notes, I slipped over to talk to the partner teacher. “Nikki” had a good 10 years under her belt and her classroom ran like a Swiss watch; kids were focused and on task, with ample time to explore new ideas. As we chatted, I commented how Carrie had adopted many of the positive characteristics that Nikki herself had demonstrated: great lesson hook, use of attention-getting strategies, respect for all. At that point, Nikki paused, her cheeks reddened, then she muttered, “Well, I try.” 

In the six years I have been a practicum supervisor, that teacher response has been all too common. Without exception, it is not a hard look to find partner teachers’ imprints on student teachers, whether it’s the classroom entry chit-chat, the instructional methodologies, the way to cast “that look” to keep a student focused, or the 30,000-foot view of the planning for the year. The connections are obvious.

In seeing that, my natural desire is to compliment the partner teachers on the positive influence they are having. You would think it would be an easy conversation, but it often isn’t. Maybe it’s the Canadian way to defer compliments, but it clearly is often the teacher way to either dismiss them or blush. 

After all, we are doing what we are paid to do, right? It’s the teacher’s job to teach and to share with an up-and-comer who plans to join the profession. We want them to learn all the tricks of the trade so they will be successful. 

All of that is absolutely true. The trick is to both acknowledge that expertise, then provide that wee bit of encouragement to reinforce that the teachers are doing good work that is so appreciated. 

During this winter session of 2022, I’ll continue observing my students and will have the same follow-up conversations with their partner teachers. I will also invariably see the proteges replicating the great things the partner teachers do. Hopefully, those mentors will accept my compliments and feel good about their work, knowing that it is valued and worthy of duplication. 

Whether or not they blush will be up to them. ❚

Dan Hoch is a practicum supervisor working in the Calgary area. 

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