Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Memories and Thanks

The N.Y. Times ran a story today about adults using facebook to reconnect with teachers that had a positive impact on their lives.
It was a very nice story about those extraordinary teachers who had a "following", Mr. Holland type teachers. But the truth is every teacher has an impact on their students whether they or the student is aware. It can be as simple creating a classroom environment where a child feels safe to try something new. Or the teacher who makes all the problems of home go away by the gentle smile she gives. Or how about the teacher who encourages and reassures a student that they can do something when everything around them says they can't. These are subtle influences that are hard for students recognize and even harder to articulate. Yet these influences have the capacity to change the way a student thinks and learns for their entire life. Imagine if you can 180 straight days of someone sending you the message that they believe in you, even when you make mistakes or misbehave. That's powerful!

As an early childhood teacher I always wonder what type of impact I had on my students' lives. By the time they are asked the question of which teacher had the greatest impact I am long gone from their memory except as perhaps a warm feeling of "we had so much fun" in your class. Those intangibles that early childhood teachers develop: inquisitiveness, sense of accomplishment, joy at discovering a new skill, are buried beneath the high school plays, sporting events and awards nights of teenage years. And yet, without that foundation to build on students would have a difficult time benefiting from all that education has to offer.

Recently I heard that my 8th grade science teacher was retiring after 40 some years of teaching. Once I got over my initial shock that she was still teaching, I realized that she is one of those teachers, although not early childhood, that had an intangible effect on the adult that I have become. She has greatly influenced the teacher I have become - and I NEVER TOLD HER.

Of all people, teachers should have the greatest motivation to reach out to those who shaped their education and careers. Yet, sadly, we too are consumed with the daily obligations that provide excuses for not doing something. So I decided to do just that - reach out and let her know what an impact she had on this one student. I wrote her a letter thanking her for what she taught me, put it in a retirement card and mailed it. No, I won't be creating a facebook group dedicated to her, but I think she'll forgive me. This week I got a wonderful letter back expressing her gratitude for my words of kindness. Imagine that. She was thanking me, for something I should have done 35 years ago. Maybe it has more meaning after transcending so many years and life events.

My challenge to each of you is to reach back in your memory as far as you can and find that one (or more) teacher who helped shape your attitudes, ethics, values - the intangibles, and send them a few words of thanks. Social network sites and the internet make it easier to locate people from our past. Take the time, make the effort. You will be so rewarded in return. I know I have been. Now, anyone know where I can find Mr. Dazer....

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