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I was driving to work yesterday and caught a portion of a CBC radio program discussing the question of whether or not the shortage of male teachers is a crisis in education. What caught my attention while listening to the program was the broader exploration of the question: what makes a great teacher? More specifically, how essential is it that teachers be representative of their student populations (e.g., a mix of ethnicities, genders, social backgrounds, etc.)?

 As one of the commentators on the program pointed out: “One of the biggest gaps [between students and teachers] is that all teachers go to university.” Just how much of the population does this represent? You may be surprised at the answer: approximately 25 per cent of working Canadians according to the Conference Board of Canada’s latest figures. This means that teachers in public schools, a group that represents a quarter of the population in terms of educational achievement, are teaching 100 per cent of our youth. Teacher’s colleges do try to address this gulf by having classes on student “exceptionalities” and strategies to make various “accommodations” to and “modifications” for these learners. What these future teachers, who were evidently successful in school themselves, might not realize is that they are more the exception than the majority of their students. How does this “gap” affect the probable majority of students who will not complete a four-year university degree?

That was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but it can be answered in part by the evidence of teens either not completing high school or plodding through with a low opinion of themselves as learners. Howard Gardner has identified nine types of intelligences. Of those, two: logical-mathematical and linguistic are overwhelmingly favoured in schools. As I look at the descriptions of the other seven intelligences, I recognize many of the teens at Compass in them. Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, and Interpersonal Intelligences are among those areas where we see some of our teens excelling. While we do have teens who are quite strong, in some cases, downright brilliant, in the logical-mathematical category in particular, other Compass members come to us largely because their strengths fall outside of the two intelligences preferred in schools.

The fact that Compass does not require our teaching volunteers to have teaching certifications lends to the diversity of our teachers for exactly the reasons the commentators were discussing on the CBC. It allows our teens to be exposed to a greater diversity of learners. Learners who, in many cases, are much more like themselves. It’s one thing to accommodate; it’s an entirely different thing to represent.

The full story on The Current can be found here: