Making The Proverbial Difference: Students Are More Than Numbers. They are people.

Ancient Teaching Proverb: Making A Difference

When I was in teaching school the above three words were thrown around by teaching students in my program and instructors alike, which caused some professors to encourage us not to use these words when writing about educational topics.  These words describe what every teacher hopes to accomplish by becoming a teacher and when interacting with students.  Each teacher also defines what these words mean to them and usually we all have those moments that make what we do rewarding.

For some it is the look on a child’s face when they finally understand something that the teacher has struggled for days for them to understand.  For others it is looking at testing data and seeing that their students achieve at a high level or one struggling student performed better than they had before.  And, for some people it is simply the look of relief on a student’s face when they feel safe in the classroom because their outside life is so unstable.  We all know what those moments feel like and those who have chosen this career path hope to one day feel the warmth that can only come from such a moment.    

I recently saw some students who I had last year that had many different issues that ranged from academic to personal and sometimes they took those issues out on me as they went through the learning process.  There was one time I even had one of these students have a shutdown during one of my observations that made my conversation with my principal less than exciting after it was over!  We both rolled with the punches and dealt with the issues we needed and by the end of the school year I had helped her pass my class while processing some of her issues.  My room was a safe haven, even though she sometimes lashed out in anger at me or even just ignored me by putting her head down when we had a rough day.

When I saw her a couple months ago, I didn’t notice that she was hanging outside the high school that I used to teach at because I was on a mission to see my friend and deliver some holiday goodies like I do every year.    She noticed me and both her and the other student ran over to me excited to see me.  She was so overzealously joyful at seeing me that she grabbed me in this huge bear hug and she would not let go!  She held me for several minutes crushing the life out of me as I stood surprised at her joy, giving her a quick pat on the back.  Once she was done giving me a hug she quickly chattered on about other teachers, asked me questions about how I was doing, and where I ended up since I had been cut from her school and had to transfer.  She really cared about me as a person and told me that I was one of the best teachers that she had ever had!  Her joy was so overwhelming I stood there barely knowing what to say, since I was really mentally struck.  I asked a few questions before I told them I was here to see one of the current teachers in their high school and they explained how to find him, since the school had just opened a new building. 

It was so nice to see these students develop into people that had grown from what I had seen from the year before.  Every day I went to work and sometimes wondered why I was constantly giving my all?  Seeing these students made it all come full circle and remind me why I became a teacher in the first place.  I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to Inspire.  I wanted to make people feel safe and like they could be successful.  Even though at the time I felt like I was probably wasting my efforts or was just a down right lousy teacher because I couldn’t get through to some of my students, it was obvious that I had left an impression on some of them.  I had done it.  I had hit the pinnacle that all teachers entering teaching programs hope for:  To Make A Difference.       
So next time you go back into the classroom, who knows who you are inspiring or helping through a tough time just by being you.  Today there is all of this modern talk about testing and scores or achievement, but we forget the most important aspect of teaching, which is interacting and dealing with people.  If we cannot build relationships we cannot teach content and students will never learn or perform on tests.  Students are not numbers and are often unpredictable.  We are dealing with individuals after all and even Hari Seldon’s futuristic mathematical psychohistory would not be able to help us figure out how to solve everyone’s problems in the classroom.  

So remember, build those relationships.  Help foster them and grow.  You never know how much you really are getting through.  Or how long you will be remembered and will be carried with a student after you no longer see them face to face any more.  

And, possibly the most important thing for all teachers to remember in our darkest hours:  It is worth it to make the proverbial difference for someone out there that really needs it.

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