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The impact teachers have on students often goes unnoticed. It's quite amazing and encouraging when you see it with your own eyes. I am writing this article for those of you who have doubts about whether or not you make a difference. I realize my decision to remain in one middle school for my thirty-year career gives me a unique perspective on successes so many teachers don’t have.
Beginning My Journey
I was given several options on the day I chose my first school. Having been a substitute in all but one of the schools I was offered, I chose the middle school that had opened the previous year. Looking back, I’m glad I did.
Examples of Impact
The impact I was able to see on students I had taught was made possible by being in one school for so long. The examples of teacher impact I am sharing happened but I am changing the names to preserve the privacy of those I taught in case anyone recognizes the stories.
I had taught Brenda's older brother a few years before her. Her brother had been an excellent student with good behavior. I remember Brenda as being quite a talker and this behavior often affected her grades. By the time she left middle school, she had matured and her grades had improved. About 15 years later, while shopping in a supermarket after work, someone shouted my name from a distance. I looked up and saw a tall young woman with a young child. I realized it was Brenda! We talked for a bit about her child and her job. She apologized for giving me such a hard time and wanted me to know she turned herself around in school after that year with me.
Fred was a student in my math class. I used to talk to him about putting forth more effort in class in order to be prepared for high school. He ended eighth grade with a D in math. Several months into his first year of high school, he and another student returned to see me. I was quite happy to hear he had a B in high school Algebra. Out of curiosity, I asked Fred what caused the success in math. He said he had remembered the pre-algebra I had taught and was able to apply it in 9th grade. He thanked me for pushing him so hard and explained it really helped him going into high school. Fred is one of the students I would never have known I had an impact on had he not returned to thank me.
There is a special place in my heart for John. He was the type of student every teacher wishes to have. He was a hard worker, well-behaved and was always willing to help others. John's mother had passed away before I taught him and when he needed someone to talk to, he would let me know. John stayed in touch periodically through high school by either visiting me or sending a note to the school. After graduating from high school, he entered the army and continued to stay in touch for several years. I still have the picture he sent me of him in uniform taken after a recent promotion.
I bumped into Sharie as I was entering a convenience store. I remember her as a quiet and diligent student. I heard a quiet voice say my name. At first, I didn't recognize her because she was wearing large sunglasses. When she removed them, I knew who she was. She told me she was doing well and was shocked that she remembered me. I will remember this meeting because Sharie was the last student I would have thought I had impacted in any way.
These stories are what made my decision to retire from my school so difficult. I always had students return to see me just to say hello or ask for help in math. Since I wouldn’t be there for this last group, I let know I was leaving and gave them a special e-mail account in case they wanted to chat. Several stayed in touch for a few years.
The last “graduation” I oversaw for the eighth graders was difficult. I held back tears the entire time, but somehow made it through. As everyone was leaving, I saw the faces of several former students entering the venue. These young adults heard I was leaving and wanted to say goodbye one last time. Those were the bonus visits that reminded me I had truly impacted many students.
Let me conclude with this thought that may help you continue to do what you do best. If you help one child a year, you have done more than most people do in a lifetime. Hang in there.