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Making A Difference

June 13, 2014

When I made the decision to take a sabbatical, I did so to become a stay at home dad and play a larger role in the lives of my three children.  Having spent the last six years working fifty to sixty hours per week as an admission officer and teacher, I felt I had missed out on a large part of their childhoods and was determined to spend as much quality time with them as I could.  To make the most of my mornings when they were at school, I devoted myself to professional development.  This blog was part of that effort, as was the time spent reading, meeting with other teachers, doing classroom observations, and participating in weekly teacher chats on Twitter.  My ultimate goal was to earn new techniques and ways of thinking in order to have a positive impact on the lives of my future students.

I joke with my friends that I’ve learned more this year than during my seventeen years of professional development days, but it’s quite possibly true.  Being a teacher and father doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about your craft.  However, I’ve found that my self-directed study and time for reflection have helped me to add tools to my “tool belt” and prepared me to be a more effective teacher when I return to the classroom this fall.  Not only have I learned new methods of teaching and built a strong personal learning network, but I also have enjoyed the opportunity for introspection, which has allowed me to once again change my mission and the paradigm through which I see myself as a teacher.

I became a teacher to help kids and to share with them my passion for history.  This goal or mission has changed over my career.  After finishing grad school, it became my mission to “teach one hundred percent of my students one hundred percent of the curriculum.” (That dictum came from Denise Davis, the head of my graduate program, who urged us to try various methods and models to help students construct knowledge.)  If you had asked me five years later, I would have said, “I want to give students the skills to be successful academically while teaching them important  historical content.”  Having spent time at Carroll, my thinking had changed once again, and I now believe my purpose as an educator is to “empower students to feel confident in themselves as learners in order to learn important academic skills and historical material.”

So back to last week’s epiphany.  I was driving to the school where I have been subbing and listening to a podcast produced by one of my former students.  (We all have our favorites and Solon has always been near the top of my list).  As I listened to the show he had produced for his college radio station, I was so impressed that I thought to myself, I need to stay in touch with Solon as he gets older to see all the amazing things he will accomplish with his life.  This thought led to the following internal dialogue: Why do I want to stay connected?  I don’t have the same interest in the lives of all my other students.   Hmm. I wondered…  Had I made an impact on his life?  Had I made a difference?  And then wham!  A light bulb went off.  At my core, that’s what is most important to me.  I want to make a difference as a teacher.  But then I thought, Sure, of course I do.  Most teachers want to make a difference.  But why is affecting such a change so important to me?  And then a second light bulb went off.  I need to repay the debt I owe to all my teachers who made such a huge difference by helping me to overcome my Dyslexia and ADHD and get me to where I am today.

Wanting to explore more the impact of making a difference, I wrote Solon and asked him what difference I had made in his life.  I felt conflicted about asking – but I felt called to because I realized I was in the midst of a paradigm shift.  Here is part of what he wrote:

I think one of the first lessons I learned from you was to be unapologetically yourself. Between your Cleveland Indian’s blanket on the couch, your love of Japan, and your Jazz Appreciation Club, you always seemed to love the things you love and not care about who doesn’t understand them…. I think that’s one of the qualities that makes you a good teacher.

In sixth grade, I would’ve been much too concerned with what other people thought about me to ever stick out as much as you did. It takes some guts to wear an Indians’ jersey in Red Sox Nation. You’re one of the people in my life who taught me that it’s ok to be different.

I want to make it clear at this point that the part that I played in Solon’s life was a small one.  He has always been amazing.  Greatness gushed out of him even when he was in middle school thanks to his incredibly supportive family and Bancroft’s nurturing faculty and student body who helped hone his talents.  Yet, to know that I had made even the smallest impact has given me a tremendous sense of satisfaction because, ultimately, it means I’ve paid off some of the debt I owe to teachers like Mrs. Brown (5th grade teacher), Mrs. Spear (LD teacher), Jackie Powell (advisor at Mercersburg), Dr. Wilson (history professor at Depauw), and Denise Davis (head of the Teachers Apprentice Program) to name a few.  They helped mold me into who I am today.  The successes I have with my students are a result of the difference those teachers made in my life, and the credit for the change I make in my students is largely because of their efforts to help me.

So, as I begin to prepare for my new job teaching Fifth and Sixth grade Humanities at Lesley Ellis, I need to continue to make it my mission to make a difference in the lives of those students just as I have in the lives of plenty of students over the years.  While some students need a push and others need support, I pray that I will be there to provide them whatever they need to reach their potential not only as a student but as a human being.  And since those needs can be different by the day, I need to remember to always keep my radar up to know better what they need in the moment to help them reach their potential, learn important information and skills, and gain confidence in themselves as learners and people.

  1. stephanie permalink

    So glad you’ve had this time for introspection (and family) this year. I’ve enjoyed sharing your journey with you by reading your blog!

    • Thanks Stephanie! It has been a great year and I thank you for all your thoughtful comments that got me thinking. What are your plans for the summer? I hope you will have plenty of opportunities to relax and spend time with family and friends.

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