I live in a smaller town so it’s not unusual for me to run into former students. Yesterday, while I was shopping, I met a former English student. My memories of her were that school was not easy for her and that she held herself as not able to be successful in that environment. She never expressed any confidence in her ability. I remember encouraging her to try, to ask questions, to trust in her ability and to know that she was able and capable of doing the work required in order to ‘get the credit’.
I was hot and cranky and the store was crowded. All I thought initially was how annoyed I was that yet another person was moving into the aisle where I was looking at product and making a decision about my purchase. I had not looked up but merely moved in the aisle to create room for whoever it was to pass. And then this young woman asked me how I was doing and I looked up. And I remembered her.
And then my day changed. My former student gave me the gift every teacher, in their heart of hearts, wants. Was I still teaching she wanted to know? She thanked me for being her teacher. She told me that it was because of me and teachers like me that she had the life she has now – a house and car and two wonderful children — a happy life. Without me and the other teachers who inspired her and gave her a safe place to learn to trust herself and her ability, she did not believe that she would have had her life.
As a teacher, one of the goals I always sought to achieve was to help my students to grow and to believe in themselves so that they would be inspired to achieve their potential. In teaching secondary school English, it was rare for me to teach any student for more than one year of their high school career. So, while I hoped that my students would feel safe to try in my classroom and while I hoped that I had had a positive impact on their life, I did not really know if that was the case. I just had to trust that I had achieved my own goals for myself as I taught them.
It is in connecting with ourselves and inspiring ourselves and others that we can have the greatest impact on others. Teachers may not know the impact they have on their individual students.
My inspiration – my personal hero – as a teacher was my grade 13 Math teacher. He loved learning and loved his subject. He made learning fun and held us as able and capable to engage with the curriculum. When I became a teacher, I told myself that if I could have even half of the impact on my students that he had had on his, then I would have been successful.
Thanks to talking with my former student yesterday and being thanked by her, I know that met my goal. And it feels fantastic!