Education Alumni Q&A: Larry Payne (’87 BEd, ’94 MEd, ’03 PhD)

We asked Faculty of Education alumni to reflect on their teacher journeys, offer advice to their younger selves, and salute the educators who had an impact on them professionally and personally. Here’s what they told us.

Why did you become a teacher?

It wasn’t a formed opinion or desire. It was a gradual road. I’ve learned that I need to move towards my strengths, and my strengths are with people. I did some psychology classes as I was intrigued by human behaviour, and that led me to the Faculty of Education. From the moment I walked in, I was bit—I was in! I loved it. I loved being a learner, and being able to impart knowledge to others and to go on that journey together. I’ve been engaged in school my whole life—I’ve been continuously enrolled in school for 52 years, so I do not know life without school!

How does a great teacher see an impact on their students?

This is an interesting part of teaching. You won't ever see the full impact. That is one of the great things about teaching. You know that in these moments you’re making a difference, but it’s this lasting impact that goes on that becomes the legacy of the teacher many years down the road. As a principal, I often say to the teachers, students may not have the ability yet to say thank you, but I will say thank you to you on their behalf because I know that five years, 10 years, 20 years from now you will have made a difference.

What is the impact you see in the students with a great teacher?

You see a level of respect and admiration for the teacher. Teaching is a delicate balance in the relationship. I won’t say a friendship, but I will say camaraderieship and there is a sense of belonging. Educators in a school create a palpable and tangible sense of belonging, and that carries you through and allows a fertile, rich ground to extend and stretch yourself. It’s that pressure/support line balance, and it really is magic when it happens. I’ve been lucky enough to be in schools where the entire staff was of the same view, and that collective synergy is so powerful.

What has it been like since March 2020 when the pandemic began?

It’s been amazing to see the resiliency in people, and the ability to rally around each other, and to acknowledge that we are all human in this independent of our work and our roles. We need to support each other as we go through this roller coaster—roller coasters can be fun, but if you can’t see the track you need support! We always talk about competencies; we recognize that curriculum has moved past just knowledge, certainly with the information explosion and technology. We recognize the need for certain skill sets and competencies in the world such as problem-solving, collaborative approaches, critical thinking, and managing information. What I've observed is that COVID has been a great experiment around the application of competencies. We are doing great in terms of the ways we are thinking about our approach. We can be proud in education of the way we have adapted. We have fostered those competencies that will allow us to get through this horrific pandemic.

What makes a great teacher?

Having been in education my whole life, I'm surrounded by them continually. There’s some that stand out. They come to mind as people who understand that there is both a science and an art to teaching. It’s just magic when a teacher understands that, and they take the pedagogy and understanding of how we learn and apply that to an individual human. People like that make you feel heard and inspired, and you strive to do better. They’re the ones that tell me that it's okay—you will make mistakes and you will learn from those mistakes. I have a teacher at my school right now who stretches themselves so much in the instructional techniques they use that you can’t help but be engaged and pulled in, even just walking by the classroom. Everyday there’s something different about how he is teaching and what he is teaching. He just really extends his thinking and the students are like sponges. He has this magic with his students and they’re fully engaged. It’s people like that are able to inspire and are some of the best teachers I’ve seen.

A great teacher is one that is humanistic, one that is professional, one that is respectful and knowledgeable, and knows how to apply information to the human condition. I think it’s a collage of all of these things. We have done our job if we can marry all of those, and they are the great teachers I’ve been privileged to work with. And I’ll end with being a lifelong learner - learning continues throughout your life and is vital to being an educator.