The Classroom is a Compromise

“The classroom is, ultimately, a compromise.”

In my 16 years as an educator I have observed in the traditional classroom that we learn all of the things that do not equate to success as an adult. 


We learn that there’s only one answer; that mistakes are to be avoided; that failure isn’t a gift; that work is best done or must be done alone; that social situations are best met with defenses up; and that we, the learners, are not in charge of our education.


As a child I attended both gifted education and behavioural class.  What was the most funny to me about this, even then, is that they were scheduled back to back.  So I would spend an hour mocking school which would be followed by an hour of loving school.  Incredible educators like Mrs. Diane Carlson and her late husband Mr. Dave Carlson somehow knew me – they recognized that I simply wanted to learn, to be respected, and, frankly, to be loved.  There were others at my elementary school (Mr. Horsley, Mr. Davies) but the vast majority of my teachers did not see the true me.  And I was a lucky one – I was academically gifted and also a pain in the butt – causing me to be seen more than most children.  It wasn’t until I became a teacher myself that I recognized how many children ‘the system’ is missing.  It simply isn’t possible to know 12 children well, let alone 20, and certainly not 30 while simultaneously trying to load them with an evermore bloated curriculum.


Quality education, that which requires the child, teacher, and community to grow together, is sacrificed on the altar of economics, efficiency, and the painful realities of an over-burdened education system.


As an educator I saw these children.  To be more humble about it I should say that they saw me.  I grew up as an athlete, as a confident speaker, and as the captain of the local and high school hockey teams.  These were my social defenses – they insulated me from the judgment of my peers but also prevented me from noticing the wonderful diversity of talents around me.  As a teacher things were flipped upside down.  The students seeking me out in the hallway were chess champions, science geeks, quiet (but excessively bright) mullers, and those who dealt with true adversity on a day to day basis.  At first I stopped in the hallway to hear them because it was my job.  Later, when I realized that these children were the ones who needed the right environment to excel, providing that environment became my passion.  That search for the ideal school lead me from the hallways of an elite boys’ school in Toronto to a completely un-elite school half a mile from the Atlantic ocean.  I started my career as a teacher coaching hockey and track.  Within a short time I was also leading flight club (using simulators and radios), robotics, and chess.   From this vantage point I was able to pinpoint those children who existed on that razor’s edge – with the wrong environment they, and society as a whole will lose because we won’t experience their brilliance. They will just “be”. Put these same children into the right environment and they become the leaders of tomorrow.

These children, the ones on that edge, are the ones for whom I built a school.