Monday, September 5, 2011

Teachers Make All the Difference

The other day I received an envelope in my mailbox at school. I opened it to find a thank you card. Before I opened it up I was thinking about whose baby shower I went to or whose kid’s birthday party I attended recently. As I opened the card I looked at the bottom to see that it was from a student I taught six years ago. Upon reading the note, this student who is now a senior in high school, went on to thank me for inspiring her to pursue teaching as a career. She cited a few examples of things I had done to “push” her in that direction. I was a bit humbled and proud all at the same time.

As teachers we spend time with kids daily and have literally millions of interaction with them. What I think we fail to realize sometimes is the sheer gravity of these interactions. One comment or seemingly insignificant event can make all the difference in a kid’s life, for the better or worse. A few anecdotes…
I good friend of mine happens to teach next door to me and lives close to me as well. We carpool to work and regularly talk about work, home, and all things in between. In one of our conversations he was talking about how his daughter hated science in school. However, after a biology class with a particularly good teacher, she now loved the subject. One teacher made the difference for her.

A few years back I sat in a parent teacher conference with a mom. Her son was in my class and he was a good kid making some bad choices with who he was hanging out with. As a result he was getting himself wrapped up in some negative situations at school. I spent a good hour talking with his mom about how he was a good kid just making bad choices. As she left, I thought nothing more of this conversation because it is one I have had with dozens of parents every year. A few years later this same mother sent me a letter thanking for “saving her son’s life”. While I thought that was extreme, she went on to explain how our conversation prompted some changes at home with her son. He started changing his peer group and landed with a great group of positive friends that helped him have a great high school career and I was none the wiser.

Yes, those two examples were what one would consider positive, and yet that is not always the case. I am also a coach at school and recently had an issue with a gifted athlete not come out for a sport. This particular athlete was playing a 7th grade sport where the coach belittled and yelled to a point where this athlete lost all desire to play. The coach might have had the best intentions but for this particular kid it turned them off from a sport they loved and excelled at.

Another example is from me when I had a student in my Language Arts class. The class was a gifted or enriched class with some outstanding students enrolled. One particular student struggled to keep pace with the other students and was often behind. I met with parents to discuss my concerns and how I thought their child would be better placed in a regular Language Arts class. This was in no way an attempt to ditch her or push her down. I saw her getting frustrated and burning out because she could not keep up. What resulted was the parents fighting my decision and demanding she stay in my class. When the dust settled this particular student had lost whatever love she had for Language Arts and floundered for the remainder of the year despite my best attempts to “revive” her.

The point of all of this is that you, the teacher, have more impact than you will ever even know. One gesture or comment to a kid in your first period can make or a break that kid’s day. Just remember to choose your words wisely and make your actions deliberate, you may never know who is watching or listening. That one passing moment that we have as a teacher may be the one moment that a kid remembers for a lifetime. How do you want students to remember you? What will your impact on their lives be? Remember that you might not even realize nor ever know what your impact was…
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