This post and the philosophy it describes came to mind recently. It came up in the context of a team meeting, and then it came to mind again when I was choosing writing samples for my Amtrak Residency application. I settled on two posts: Death and Drama, the day the sirens stopped outside our office windows, and a post with a more positive outlook, One Child a Year. Here’s the post, updated slightly to have the correct number of years teaching. 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? An impact 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 nineteenth 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 connection 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 tweens 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.