Teachers Fueled by Student Success

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

I had a student observer this past spring who asked me “how we do it?”

She wanted to know how, in spite of all the stuff thrown our way – the attacks on the profession, the teachers, the union, the pension, the lifestyle, the politics, the “part-time worker” status, the lack of results – and so on – are teachers able to do this job everyday (and do it well).

My answer was pretty brief. I get to cash commission checks every day.

Previous students hardly even know I’m cashing in on them. Indeed, it’s a minuscule number, somewhere in the 0.0001% and 1% range. But consider its application:

  • It applies to the former student who’s becoming an author
  • It applies to the dozens of students who thought they’d never go to college and now are doing it
  • It applies to the, even more, students who are financially secure on their own, whether college had a hand in that or not
  • It applies to the students who, thanks to being part of the mock trials in my class, are now successful lawyers and police officers
  • It applies to the students who are making a difference as employees of the government
  • It applies to the student who successfully ran for office and won
  • And to the 2 who ran and didn’t
  • It applies to the students who took the entrepreneurial challenge of my Shark Tank project and are staking out their own business ventures
  • It applies to all the successful mothers and fathers who saw me treat kids and now they treat their kids in a similar manner
  • It applies to the student who mentioned me in his salutatorian address
  • And the valedictorian who didn’t, though I know I impacted him
  • It applies to the students who didn’t think about or care about social studies before me
  • And it applies to the seeds that I sowed that won’t germinate for years to come
  • It applies to the 25 or more students who are becoming teachers
  • And it applies to the 1,000s of students who’ve become better students because of my influence

You see, some people are driven by huge, immediate dividends. That seems to be the way of stock brokerages, many business firms, and the success of many personal and professional enterprises.

But not teaching. Click To Tweet

You see, we’re fueled by the successes of our students. In each victory they create, we get to take a very minute sliver of the pie. Sometimes it’s so small that they don’t even notice it. Sometimes it’s so large that they’re willing to give us the whole darn thing. But they don’t need to.

That’s because our careers are basically a pie dish, made up of the slivers of success throughout the years.

I learned that from my cooperating teacher when I student-taught. I always wondered why he collected the college stickers of all the students he taught even though he was a 7th-grade teacher. For him, it was easy. The district – which is now a very affluent one – was not that when he began teaching there, or, even more so, when he was a student there. As students came back to give him thanks for his influence, they began to talk about how the successes in his and others’ classrooms birthed new opportunities. So, he began to ask them for bumper stickers from their college. His windows and walls were covered like it was a Christmas collage of higher-learning from his first year to his fortieth.

When I pressed him on what about the successes of those who didn’t go to college, he immediately turned to a folder in his filing cabinet, opened it, and threw it in front of me. He said, “there’s more in here than there are on the walls.” And, after reading several of the letters expressing the most heartfelt gratitude, I knew exactly what he meant.

This isn’t to take anything away from our students. They deserve – without equivocation – all of their successes that they mount on their own. But it’s nice to take a feather from each one of those successes throughout the years and place it in my cap.

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By | 2017-08-06T16:29:39+00:00 August 7th, 2017|Confessions of a Teacher, Featured, Instruction&Curriculum, Opinion|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

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