One Child a Year – an encore

I checked my email and online grade book on Sunday night (What? Sunday? Doesn’t every teacher work Sundays?) and got excited in a way that other teachers will understand. One of my (ahem) high maintenance students had a tech problem, so I called him to help. It’s not as easy as you might think; this student attends our virtual school and a religious school. The only time I can phone his family is after school hours on Friday. Well, it worked. I walked him through the process of getting into the site and finding the documents he needed, and he did it. Just don’t tell any taxpayers I worked overtime for free; they’ll never understand.

Here’s the encore that came to mind. Originally posted in 2008, it needs little or no revision to be current. Enjoy.

Beginning teachers want to change the world, put their hearts into their work, matter to someone, somehow. I have come to realize that there are limits, big limits, to the good I do through my teaching. And when it comes down to changing a life, having an impact on a child’s future, a wise co-worker told me to expect to make a difference once a year. One child a year.
At first it sounds callous, minimizing. Realize, however, that we’re not talking about everyday teaching. I teach the entire class to read, to write, to handle long division. But a life-changing impact? A difference that changes the route students will take, puts them on a path to success — or not — doesn’t happen nearly as often as idealists think.
Now, in my eighteenth year of teaching, I wonder who those children are and were. I may never know. A few may touch base with me again. Most won’t or can’t. Many don’t even realize that a teacher, any teacher, turned them around and set them in the right direction.
The victim of bullying who learned to take control might join the list. Then there’s the slacker with a high IQ who earned his first D or F and finally learned study skills. The late bloomer who discovered her favorite book ever on my shelves and realized she loved to read may feel that link as well. But those are the easy ones.
The child whose family was evicted from their apartment, the family I helped find services for the homeless, won’t ever know that I made a difference. Her parents are too busy keeping a roof over their heads and feeding the kids to think about teachers, and that’s exactly where their priorities belong. The depressed adolescents that I referred for help? The counselor made a bigger difference than I did, and again that’s just as it should be. The student who struggled with math and finally, finally “got” fractions under my watch, may be the one child for that year. Or not. It might have been the quiet student, the one who sat in the back and listened intently, absorbing everything he heard, but never saying a word.
So I keep on plugging, planning for class, differentiating for those who need it, and hoping. I hope as well that maybe, just maybe, I made a difference for someone, somehow, each year.

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