Education Canada Magazine


The Power of the Personal

Nancy Doherty taught all my children Grade 3 at West Preparatory Junior Public School in Toronto. We all have fond memories of her. Going the extra mile for students is not easy, but it’s always appreciated and remembered by students and their parents.

I have three sons and one daughter – and all their report cards from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Among the piles, Mrs. Doherty’s reports stand out. In my second son Jiayin’s Grade 3 report card, she wrote, “He is very well respected for his academics, but also for his honesty, sense of fair play and tremendous sense of humour… We all enjoy Jiayin’s weekly reading of poetry. He has a very strong sense of self… He is a very accomplished and sensitive writer.” These lines weren’t copied and pasted from a comment bank. They are personal. Mrs. Doherty wrote them especially for my son. Actually, I wasn’t even aware of my son’s funny side back then. Mrs. Doherty discovered a gem in my young boy.

My daughter, Mingmei, also had a terrific year in Grade 3. Knowing that Mingmei was ahead of her peers in math, Mrs. Doherty prepared booklets full of difficult problems for her to solve. She enjoyed the challenging questions a lot. In Mingmei’s report card, Mrs. Doherty wrote, “She is an outstanding individual, happy, positive and inquisitive… During class discussions, she is able to make high-level connections across the curriculum and to the world beyond… Her imaginative, creative stamp is left everywhere!” Again, these comments are unique. Mrs. Doherty wrote them just for my daughter, who doodled all over the place. Instead of criticizing her, Mrs. Doherty saw creativity in my little girl.

In my eldest son Weilan’s Grade 3 report card, Mrs. Doherty wrote, “Weilan is a delightful, caring and studious young man, who always gives his best effort… He is thought of in the class as someone who is kind, respectful and honest.” These comments are special, too, which is why I still remember them after so many years.

Mrs. Doherty was a loving teacher who seemed to have a magical touch with her young charges. All my children were shy, but she managed to bring them out of their shells. One day Weilan, a quiet boy, bravely made the morning announcements in the office. When he came back to his classroom, Mrs. Doherty hugged him, pleased and proud that her timid student had stepped out of his comfort zone. “She smelled like coffee,” my son told me. My third son, Haiyang, was painfully shy (In Grade 5, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism). But in Mrs. Doherty’s class, he read his comic books in front of his classmates!

In Haiyang’s report card, Mrs. Doherty wrote, “Haiyang loves to express himself through written/art work (comics)… He is an inquisitive, conscientious student who can always be depended upon to do his very best. His knowledge of the world and his incredible imagination take him to examine the unusual.” Once again, these are not cookie-cutter comments. Mrs. Doherty took time to write something particular for each of my children.

Mrs. Doherty not only encouraged and challenged my children, but also encouraged and challenged me. It was she who said to me, “You are good with children. You should be a teacher.” So in the fall of 2005, I, an immigrant and a mother of four young children, enrolled in the Bachelor of Education/Ontario Teacher’s Certificate of Qualification Program at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.  The following year, I became a teacher of the Toronto District School Board.

We all meet many teachers in our lives. But only few of them have had a profound influence on us. They are difference makers. Mrs. Doherty is definitely one of them.


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Photo: iStock

First published in Education Canada, March 2018

Meet the Expert(s)

gu zhenzhen

Gu Zhenzhen

Occasional teacher of the Toronto District School Board

Gu Zhenzhen is an occasional teacher of the Toronto District School Board.

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