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Each Student Is Someone's Special Child

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on how being a parent changed the way she teaches. Today, Dyck teaches "mom to mom."


Many of you will remember the day in April 1970 when moon-bound Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert announced to the world, "Houston, we have a problem here!" With that statement, a routine trip to the moon suddenly became a life-threatening voyage. Ground controllers faced the grueling task of getting three American astronauts home alive. They managed to do so only because, as they said, "Failure wasn't an option."

I have thought of that incident many times as I parented my own children. I am hard-pressed to think of many examples of times when anyone other than my husband or me has shown that "failure is not an option" level of commitment to my children.

Did I ever show such commitment to my students in the first years of my teaching career? I'm sure I didn't. I was 22 years old and keen to do the very best I could for my students, but I had no experience of going the extra mile for children whose learning or behavioral difficulties eluded me.

Parenting changed that!

I returned to the classroom after raising five children. I had spent a decade observing how educators had met -- and not met -- the learning and behavioral needs of my kids. Rigid pedagogy and a reluctance to go the extra mile to meet learning and behavioral needs often perplexed me. My newfound perspective amounted to a teaching epiphany! It would have a profound impact on how I would teach. I vowed to treat my students as I would want my own children treated. I would treat them as someone's special child, a child for whom failure was not an option.

Being a parent was the best preparation I ever had for the classroom. As I teach today, I try to keep fresh in my mind parenting memories:

  • the morning chaos that led me to forget to sign an important notice for one of my children.
  • the nights I was dead tired and unable to help my children prepare for a test.
  • the effort I put into figuring out projects that had scant or undecipherable instructions.
  • my guilt when my child failed a test.
  • how the home reading program expectations just about did in our family.

Those memories provide insight for me into the homes my students come from. It's easier to extend grace to my students and parents when I remember the demands of parenting, when I consider how my students' parents are often doing the best they can do.


As a parent, you become a proficient cheerleader, problem solver, and organizer of the disorganized. Seeing how my own children needed step-by-step guidance through large learning projects and test preparation helped me recognize that my students at school would benefit from that same level of support. I try to consider the students' parents as I teach. Clear assignment expectations, frequent home-school communication, and step-by-step writing templates have become routine classroom practices for me. All classroom practices are designed to help students succeed.

Working with large groups of active children for hours at a time can stretch anybody's energy and patience. When under stress, it is so easy for any teacher to holler or speak in a demeaning manner. I try to keep in mind that I am speaking to children that matter a great deal to their parents. That helps me bite my tongue or, in other cases, apologize for thoughtless words. I try to keep in mind that my own children recall many of the positive comments their teachers made -- even ten years after the fact! That helps me focus on affirming my students on a regular basis.

Children come in all shapes and sizes. So do their learning styles. With that knowledge, I often take students aside to find an approach that will meet their particular learning needs. I always try to consider how grateful I would be if a teacher made that effort on behalf of my child. I always try to think of that Houston ground crew for whom failure was not an option.


Brenda Dyck teaches at ABC Charter Public School, a school for gifted and talented children, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to teaching sixth-grade math and science, Brenda is also the school librarian. She has written for various educational periodicals and is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.




Article by Brenda Dyck
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World


Updated 7/26/2005