Sunday, January 2, 2011

Take a Moment to Relish What You Did

This morning I received an email from one of my favorite former students who is spending this year studying in Europe. Not surprisingly, she asked the traditional question: how was your semester?

After 40 years at this job, my initial reaction was to write back: “Oh, you know, same old same old. Been there, done that.”

After a few seconds of reflection, I realized that I didn’t like that attitude. I needed to change my tune. If that is the way I view my work, then maybe it is time to find a different job. I could make a lot more money being a banker or a lawyer and still be able to say “same old same old” about the work.

Being a teacher is the most wonderful job in the world. It gives you the opportunity to affect dozens of lives every day when you walk into the classroom. There is never an unimportant moment. An opportunity like that should not be taken for granted. When a semester concludes, every teacher should pause and celebrate what they have been able to accomplish. We might all be better teachers if we focused more on the importance of what we do.

This past semester, I worked with 64 students in my three classes. There were about four of those students who seemed determined to learn nothing. No matter how I coaxed and threatened, they wouldn’t do any work. They wouldn’t try; they wouldn’t even pretend to care. As a friend of mine says about teaching: “you can’t save them all.”

But that left 60 students who did try and, hopefully, learned a lot. Not too many of them made the grade of A but they worked hard and gained (I believe) a considerable amount of knowledge. And, hopefully, they came to think a little deeper. And, they learned the importance of adequate preparation. And, they got a bit better at analyzing issues and coming up with reasonable solutions.

Think about that – I had a positive influence on the lives of 60 college students. I would like to believe that they walked away from my class better off than when they first entered back in August. Those 60 students will always know some things about my subject matter because we worked together. As a teacher, I changed their lives.

If you truly stop and think about it, that is a great feeling. It is one of those “Wow!!” moments that doesn't happen often enough in life.

Moreover, when you think about it that way, you begin to realize what a huge responsibility you accept when you become a teacher. Your job is to change the lives of your students. Whether you do the job well, adequately, or terribly, you impact those students – you help to establish what they know that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

In teaching, I think we sometimes get depressed because we fixate on those (hopefully, few) students who won’t try despite our best efforts. We don’t spend enough time thinking about what we do accomplish. Teaching becomes such a regular part of our daily lives that we can start taking the whole process for granted.

Don’t do that!! Every teacher who reads this blog has the chance to change the world by impacting dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lives every semester. You help your students become more knowledgeable, better able to function in the adult world.

Name me one other profession that changes more lives than the teaching profession. Yes, there are professions that get paid better. But, I don’t think there is any profession that is more important to our society. Where would all the doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientist, ministers, engineers, and the like be without teachers? Without teachers, we would all still be living in caves.

So, take a moment to think about the lives you changed this past semester—the number of students who are different solely because of your influence. You have helped to open up the world to the people who were in your class. You have challenged those students to do better, make more of themselves, have higher aspirations. You have shared the joy of your subject matter with them.

What did you accomplish in the fall semester? You helped to make the world a better place because you are a teacher.

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