One Child a year

Beginning teachers want to change the world, put their hearts into their work, matter to someone, somehow. I’ve realized 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 thirteenth 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 the 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 that I’ve taught.

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8 thoughts on “One Child a year

  1. >Great post. I’ve been at it 13 years too and this was one of my most frustrating. I felt like the whole year was a waste…until the last day when one of my departing eighth graders left a note on my desk on her way out. It was the nicest, most heart-felt thank you notes I’ve ever received and it just made the whole hair-pulling year worth it!

    Remember, though, that striving to reach out to one student a year doesn’t mean that you don’t touch many more than that. Just as they may not notice what you’ve done for them until much later, you also may not notice how many of their lives you change.

  2. >I remember my first teacher of 70 years ago, who took a shy child and encouraged her to mingle with the other kids. What a loving teacher she was. Keep up the good work and God Bless you and other teachers.

  3. >Keep on keeping on.
    From the perspective of a mother who disliked sharing her children with the educational system, and we had our share of “bad” teachers, there is no thanks that approaches enough for the good teachers.
    Actually, only one “bad” teacher. Several who couldn’t keep up with my boys. One who did not appreciate my child’s magnificence (!) And many who coped, smiled, created, laid a gentle hand on a shoulder, coped (we require a slew of coping).
    So, thank you, it’s little enough.

  4. >I have a list of several teachers in my life who made a difference. I guess I don’t contact them again to check in because I assume they would have forgotten me.

  5. >Awwww, this is so sweet. As the child of and sibling to teachers, I know for a fact that I would never be cut out for it. I have tremendous respect for those of you who are.

  6. >i still remember my teachers from long time ago; not really their names, nope, but how they made me feel. keep it up! hugs to teachers like you!

  7. >You sound like a great teacher. 🙂 My youngest had a great teacher this year, making fourth grade and his first year in public school a foundational one for him.

    I was helping out in his class one day (I preferred to help down the hall and not bug my own kid after being his teacher for so many years) and one of the girls in class was asleep. When I asked, the teacher said that she’d had flu all 3 day weekend, but that her mom had to go back to work. So the teacher just kept the class quiet so the girl could sleep and get better. I fell in love with the teacher right then and there.

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