Well, I’m halfway through winter break. It’s days after Christmas and soon, the New Year will be rung in. I’ve been thinking a lot about myself as a teacher and the many scholars I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Have you ever wondered if you have really made a difference? How often do your scholars tell you, “You’ve really touched my life. I get it now! Thank you!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a scholar tell me this during the year they were on my roster. In fact, I may have received a few side eyes and under the breath name calling instead and well, that’s okay. I’ve always been passionate about all of them, regardless of how they may have received my presentation. Oh, yes. Of course I received cute little letters and nice pictures telling me how wonderful I was, but nothing that revealed a life changing epiphany for any of my scholars. Something amazing happened during this break which seems to be happening more and more frequently. I was with my family making some Christmas gift exchanges, when I heard my name, “Mrs. Daugherty! Mrs. Daugherty!” I turned around to find a handsome young man walking up to me. I tried to distinguish his face, but man… our scholars change so dramatically as they mature, it becomes difficult to distinguish their matured look. He forgave my puzzled expression and politely greeted me with his name, “It’s me. Justin.” (Justin is a pseudonym provided for confidentiality purposes). My eyes grew big and my heart filled with such joy! I’d taught Justin in the fourth grade. He shared that he is now a senior at an out of state prep school, but he’d recognized me walking through the store. We talked for a moment and my heart inflated with so much pride in that moment listening to all he has accomplished. He was always a bright young man and I knew he was destined for greatness, even in the fourth grade. I must admit, I wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t said anything to me first. I’ve taught hundreds of young people, in three different systems. Names and faces tend to run together for me after so many years. But young Justin, I remembered. He’s excelling just as I knew he would 8 years ago if he remained focused. He is a scholar athlete being looked at by local colleges for entry next year. Another one that made it and was compelled enough to share his successes with me. Needless to say, after we went our separate ways, I couldn’t stop smiling! Later in the evening, I began to think to myself “Who the heck was MY fourth grade teacher?” For the life of me, I cannot remember! In fact, there are only a handful of teachers that I do remember. I remember them because they either said something that made me think or they did something that caught my full attention! These teachers helped mold my life. They helped me think about whom I was and who I wanted to become. They had fully invested in me and my future. Here’s my point. As educators, we work hard, day in and day out, to make a difference in the lives of children. We make plans, we grade papers, and we work long, hard hours, for little to no pay or respect for any of it. We demonstrate, encourage, motivate, and mediate. We watch over and protect, wipe tears and reassure. We realize that some have never received a caring touch or a kind word before we entered their lives. We do all of this because most of us are in this for the outcome, not the income, knowing that more often than not, our scholars will leave us never disclosing the impact we’ve made on their lives. It dawned on me in that very moment that I was one of the teachers Justin remembered. I had said something or done something to make him remember me. It is, in my opinion, the highest praise a teacher can possibly receive. To be acknowledged by a young person you’ve taught and to hear of the wonderful things that are happening in their lives is very fulfilling. To hear that they made it, against all odds and despite their circumstances because I said it was possible all those years ago is the most priceless gift this teacher, or any teacher, could receive.
The saying goes, to whom much is given, much is required. Our purpose is to help our scholars see beyond their current circumstances. We are tasked with leading them away from poor choices and the path of destruction towards better choices that lead them to the path of their desired destiny. I’m here to tell you that this is not an easy task by any means and yes, we will, unfortunately, lose a few along the way, but not for lack of trying. We simply need to remember that there are many more “Justin’s” in our classrooms than not, waiting and wanting to learn how they too can make it. They may or may not tell you that you have had an effect on their lives. Well, at least not at that moment and really, that is okay. But, when that day comes, when you’re walking along in the store, and you hear your name being called by that one scholar you reached years before, you too will receive the same gift that Justin afforded me just the other day. And that gift, I assure you, is… priceless.