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A Gift

October 21, 2013

Over the long weekend, I ran into one of my former students at my town’s recent Heritage Day Fair.  It’s hard for me to believe, but Shubh is now a junior studying biology at Brown, and while she doesn’t know how she will use her talents when she graduates, I’m sure she will be fantastic.

It warmed my heart to remember Shubh when she was a eleven-year-old student in my sixth grade history class.  She was new to our school, but her intelligence, work ethic, and willingness to participate made her stand out. Yet, what I admired most was the empathy she showed to everyone around her.  Shubh, blessed with amazing interpersonal skills, was one of those rare people who got along with everyone.  So, I was overjoyed when when she took my high school U.S. History class as a junior.  Again, she participated frequently, wrote incredibly well, and was part of the “glue” that held that amazing class together.

When I got home, I wrote Shubh a quick note to tell her how great it was to see her, and I discovered an email she had sent me a few years ago when she was a freshman in college.  “I meant to tell you a week or so ago, but I used a concept sheet to study for my Education midterm, and it helped me so much! Thanks again for all of your help over the years!”  As a teacher, getting thanked is a pretty rare thing, so I was especially touched to see this note again.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the true gift was simply knowing her.  As teachers, we get to work with thousands of students over the course of our careers, and when we look back, there are usually a few dozen who stand out as being truly great.  Special not only because of the work they did but, more importantly, because of who they were as human beings.  Often when I tell people I am a middle school teacher, they question my sanity and ask why I’m willing to put up with prepubescent kids while making less money than I would if I had chosen another profession. If only they could experience the joy and satisfaction that results from working with students like Shubh, they would understand why I’m willing to put up with the “middle-school madness” (I read that term recently but can’t remember where).  Working with students, such as Shubh, and knowing I have had even the smallest impact on their lives validates my decision to go into teaching.

Earlier this week, I posted a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley who argued that we don’t realize the effect we have on people and conversely, the transformative influence they can have on us.  During his powerful six minute presentation, he urged his listeners to “get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other’s lives.and start to value the impact we can have on each other’s lives more than money and power and titles and influence.

Valuing the influence we have on our students and appreciating the effect they have on us as educators is what makes our noble profession so rewarding.  We need to look back over our careers and cherish their wonderful spirits and all they brought to our classrooms.  It’s as if each of them is a puzzle piece and together they make up the fabric of our careers.  What a gift indeed.

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