Monday, August 25, 2008

Wanting to Make a Difference

I'm a good teacher. I really do know that I'm a good teacher. I know my subject matter well - er, I know my English subject matter well, but I suppose I don't know my French subject matter all that well - and I'm well-trained in how to teach it. But I'm not content to just be a good teacher.

I want to make a difference.

I want to be important in someone's life. Not just because they remember Lord of the Flies a little better thanks to my class, but because their lives were genuinely better thanks to me. I want to affect more than just minds - I want to affect hearts. I want to effect change.

Unfortunately, training in how to be an agent of change in the lives of children? Well, it's harder to come by. Because you can train folks all you want, and they still might not be able to do it. It's not about the training - I know that. But what is it about?

Which teachers made a difference in your life? How did they do it? What do you remember of them, and why do you remember it all these years later?

How can I be that to someone in my class?


Kim said...

You are a girl after my own heart! I have found that it is as simple and as complicated as building authentic, caring relationships with students - being willing to be (appropriately) transparent as we mentor our students to seek out and become who God created them to become. It doesn't mean that I am their friend or easy on them, but that they know I genuinely care about them and have their absolute best interests at heart even when disciplining them. I show interest in my students personally - who are they outside of school? What are their dreams and fears?

Hang in there and know you DO make a difference every day - you just may not see it now (or ever).

God gives some to plant, some to water and some to reap.

flutter said...

personal, vested interest. you are already doing it

LaLa said...

I wish I could give you the answer, thinking back it was the ones that took a personal interest in me. Not babying me, or giving me more attention than anyone else. Just actually caring about their students.

From what I know of you, you already do.

Mrs. Chili said...

HEY! This is a question I CAN answer! YAY!

You want to know how to make a difference in someone's life? BE THERE. You don't have to do anything special, really - it's all about being who you genuinely are and loving the kids for who THEY genuinely are.

The student I've made the biggest impact on (at least, the one I know about) admits to me that the reason she loves me so much is because I HELD HER TO MY STANDARDS. I held her there because I KNEW she could reach them, and she tells me that this, more than anything, made her believe in herself.

What kind of message do kids get when everyone makes things easier for them? That they can't do it. I knew she could and, by Goddess, I made her. Know she knows she can do it - whatever "it" is.

Be yourself. Hold to your convictions. Love freely. You'll make a difference just by being there.



unmitigated me said...

Just remember that you don't teach English. You don't teach French. You teach children. Content is secondary to connection.

Anonymous said...

I think that everyone here said it best. Connect with your students, listen to them, and hold them to your standards. Don't worry about being cool or nice. Just genuinely care and give of your time. Just know, that this connection does not happen like it does in the movies. It is true that when you affect change on your students, you may never know. Or you may find out many years later. Case in point, my mentor once had a student call him up out of the blue. 20 years after she graduated. You are not going to reach every kid. If you make a change in just a quarter of your students lives you are a success. Good luck. Don't worry too much about these things. They seem to come naturally to you.

L D said...

Alright, first? You have the CUTEST teacher outfits! If I had you as a teacher during my formative years, I know I'd be a very snappy dresser.

However, as for making a difference as a TEACHER in a student's life, my three favorites are my second grade teacher, my 6th grade math teacher, and my 11th grade English language teacher. The reasons are largely the same: they believed in me and they pushed me. My second grade teacher said that if I stayed away from boys for a while, I had the potential to do go really far academically. My 6th grade teacher took me aside when I got a 3 (yes, out of 100) on a math test, explained the concept to me, and then held me accountable for it for the rest of the year (NB: I switched schools that year and it turned out that I never learned the concept at my old school). And my 11th grade English teacher? She had the highest standards I've ever seen in my life (this includes university and some graduate work). We would have to write, rewrite, and rewrite again if papers weren't up to her standards. It was hard, but it gave us something for which to strive.

In the end, high expectations tempered with a genuine concern for their students won all of us over.

Anonymous said...

I won't repeat the things everyone else has said about caring being the prime way of impacting students. They're right. Kids know when you really care or when you're mostly just interested in getting through the textbook.

On the "how will I know" piece, it's strange. You may have some moments when a student tells you directly, right then, but typically it comes later. This year I walked into a classroom and discovered one of my former students is now a second grade teacher in my district. When she recognized me she said, "I just want you to know you're the reason I became a teacher." It doesn't get much better than that, but it happened twelve years after she was in my class.

Issa said...

Just be you. Know it will take time but that it will come. See the thing is, there's no easy way. But the fact that you care enough to want to make a difference, that is a whole hell of a lot more than most teachers care.

Cate Subrosa said...

I remember the teachers who loved what they did, loved their subjects and believed in the kids.

Ali said...

the teachers who impacted my life the most were the ones that pushed me farther than i knew i could go. and the ones who knew me better than i knew myself.

i will forever thank them for this.

morgan said...

The teachers I loved the most were the ones who were smart, strict(er), and respected me as a person rather than just treating me like some kid. They made me want to be a good student and a good human being.

Coincidentally, those are the same characteristics that help make a phenomenal parent.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx said...

My all-time favorite teacher - the one that I still email with and visit even 6 years later - was my music theory/band teacher (I was a music student, went to college for music, etc).

He came up to me one day and handed me a trombone. He said that he'd booked lessons for me with an older student, Amy, and that he would give me time out of my music theory class (with him) to practice with her. He wanted me to perform in the band in two weeks. I hadn't even THOUGHT about joining band, but he didn't give me a choice! Turns out, I loved playing trombone.

He also pushed me to compose music and follow my gut on things. He submitted my work to a composition festival, and I had the opportunity to showcase my work in front of college professors.

On top of all that, he was always available when I wanted to talk, whether it was school related or not. He always listened intently, and would become so passionate about what I was doing that I wondered if he was more enthusiastic than I was!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx said...

@ MiddleAgedWoman

That is am amazing insight. Well stated.

Bridge said...

Teach them how to think for themselves - be intellectually honest yourself and ask them to grapple with their own questions too. The best teachers - the ones who taught me the most - were the ones who asked me what I thought and then showed me how to critique my own logic and the logic of the great thinkers who came before us.

The reasons I was willing to listen to them were all the things everyone else said - they were there, they showed an interest, they cared. And so I learned the best lessons they taught.

Anonymous said...

GO TO THEIR EVENTS!!!!!!!!!! Honestly. Even if it is one game. Go, cheer, wave at them, and mention it the next day. I don't know how far you live from your school, but those couple of hours spent at games make huge differences in your students.

And for those not involved in an activity, find out what they ARE interested in.

Showing interest in them outside of school is how you can make a difference in the life of a child.

I will never forget my first year of teaching, and how that made a difference. I once had a parent email my principal (without my knowledge) about the interest I showed in the students as people, and what an impact it had made on her son. "Mom, she came to a soccer game in the pouring rain because it was our last home meet and she said she would come. I know she cares."

I still have that email and I pull it out when I have a bad day.

I cannot tell you the impact this makes. Carve out the time.

Wolf Lover Girl said...

First - I love the outfits. Just cute as always! I need you to go shopping with me! :-)

Second - The one teacher I remember after all these years is my Algebra teacher while I was in 9th grade. Not that I liked Algebra (or us it now cause I don't) but because she actually explained it on the board. Step by step. Had us write it down in a notebook to refer to later if necessary. She wasn't one of those who just told you to turn to page such and such and read what they have printed then do the work that follows. I actually was so interested in that class that during one test I just could not figure out an answer to one question and went to her saying "go ahead and mark it wrong, I'm done with the test, but please show me how you solve this one." That was the only class I had straight A's in!

~ Wolf Lover Girl

Lara said...

betsy - i can't tell you how funny the timing is here. i just read your comment in my gmail inbox, and where was i just coming back from? a volleyball game in the gym, where i was watching some of my female students play. :)

BetteJo said...

I had a few teachers that I will always remember and they are the teachers who took an interest in me, treated me as an individual and not just one of a classroom full. They encouraged me and managed to make me feel important and like I could always do well.
Allow yourself to connect with them as people as well as students. I'm sure you'll do fabulously!

Natalie said...

"She cared. It was really that simple. She cared, and she could neither offer her people less than her very best nor settle for less than the complete discharge of whatever responsibilities duty required of her, however grim.

If I were to try to generalize, I'd agree with many of the commenters here who have said it's about caring. Actually, I guess the way I'd put it is that it's about loving each student wholly, completely, unreservedly, with everything you have - and not having that diminish your ability to love everyone else exactly the same way. William and I have had a number of conversations about this, and I think you know I think this is a quality you have in spades.

Loving, though, I think has to be individual. For some, it might mean paying attention to them for the first time a teacher's ever done that. Or taking the time to explain a concept to people with no knack for it. For me, it meant not being impressed or intimidated by me.

There are two kinds of teachers I've had who made a difference in my life. One type of teacher was the kind who insisted on people meeting the bar. My 10th grade English teacher was like that. She was the only teacher in the entire school who could really teach people how to write an essay (as opposed to teaching them the stuff you write essays about), and she was hardest teacher because she insisted that we get it right. But she also taught me one of the two most important academic skills in high school, which is all the more impressive when you consider she was trying to teach a skill that few students appreciate the importance of. She did it by sticking to her standards. She didn't lower them for the the whiners, or the slow kids - or the smart kids. I think she might have been the first teacher I had for whom being smart wasn't a free pass, and when I realized that I knew that she cared.

The other kind of teacher was the kind who just liked me. Not the ones who thought I had a lot of potential or the ones who were impressed by me - the ones who liked me. There were a lot of teachers who thought I had a lot academic/intellectual potential, and some who were impressed with me morally or maturity-wise or what have you, but to the ones who really stuck in my heart I was just a person. Just me. When a teacher could go from being impressed or inspired to just treating me like a likable kid, I knew that they really cared, because they really saw. For me, that was the equivalent of coming to the game in the rain.

Anonymous said...

Just be you.

Be interested in them. In their lives. Listen. Laugh. Really care.

One of my students found out I'd be going on a week-long trip with them and her email to me upon discovering this said:

"Miss Bee, I'm so glad you're coming with us. It's going to be so much fun and even better, we'll be able to share all the fun together :)

~ R <3 <3"

I sometimes wonder if I'm making a difference in these kids' lives - but emails like that show me that I am.

Anissa Mayhew said...

I think the teacher that has always stuck out in my mind as the best I had was the one that went against the standard teaching practices. He wasn't about lecturing us and telling us stuff, he was about bringing up a subject and letting us talk it out. We would be free to speak about the subject if it was pertinent and it taught us to THINK. That's priceless.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you feel! I try every day to be an agent of change in my kiddos lives -- even though they are so young that they won't remember me. Their families will remember me, though, so I make an effort to communicate with families on a regular basis about the good, the bad, and the sometimes very gross!

Mandy Sue said...

I think my 5th grade teacher made the biggest impact on me. What I remember most was that he actually challenged me. School had always been a pretty easy thing for me, along with other kids too, of course. He taught the class so that everyone was challenged to work harder at the pace they needed to work at. He had 3 levels set up for reading and math so that everyone was being challenged to learn through the year.

He also made an effort to tell personal anecdotes on a regular basis and really made an effort to connect with us. I went back and did an internship with him my senior year of highschool and he was the same way. Now he teaches new teachers how to connect successfully with their students. It's great to see someone trying to put as much into the system as he can.

Kennethwongsf said...

I grew up in an impoverished Southeast Asian country governed by a military regime (which is still in power today). It was not exactly an environment that encouraged independent thinking or creative writing. Somehow, in my English literature classes, several of my professors who taught Shakespeare and novel writing awake in me a sense of self and assurance. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that these very same professors were partly responsible for the student uprising that took place in my homeland in 1988. The uprising failed, because of the government's crackdown, but the spirit and the hunger for freedom remain.

So, young Lara, you are someone who can ignite a revolution--make no mistake.

Anonymous said...

what a hard and interesting question....i am trying to remember my "favorite" teachers and realized they are different than the "best" teachers that i had. my favorite teachers were the ones that made class interesting by doing things other than reading from notes (activities are awesome, anything that involves getting out of a seat, brainstorming, etc.), and ones that weren't afraid to share their personal lives with us - dating, families, mistakes, advice, etc.

the "best" teachers i had were my math teachers, invariably. the good ones had this innate ability to break down a complicated concept into something that i could grasp, often by drawing parallels or showing how things are interconnected (i'm specifically recalling how calculus and physics work together here). they also worked tirelessly to make sure i figured out not just how to memorize, but how to analyze and apply the proper method to a given situation. i'm remembering my difficulties learning negative numbers, and how one of the teachers used her lunch break to run scenarios with me and answer my numerous questions, until i could work some pretty complicated problems.

unfortunately i think the ones that made the biggest substantive difference in my life were my "favorites" - they were the ones who encouraged me, believed in me, offered me other opportunities to grow as a person. what i'm saying is that honestly it doesn't matter one way or another whether a kid remembers shakespeare or integrals, but it matters a whole lot if they are able to rise to challenges, think critically, and have integrity - all of which require belief/confidence in themselves. teach beyond the material, deeper than the facts...teach skills kids need outside the classroom.

Mandy said...

Oh brother... a hard one to answer. I think many teachers feel as you do starting out. I would say, in general, remember to be fair and consistent as students prize that above pretty much anything else.

Next, strive to be open and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word. As teachers, we are so conditioned to looking for the right answer/interpretation, or at least the one that we want, that we turn off lots of kids without knowing it because they do not see/interpret the world as we do. (Here I am not referring to things like 2 + 2 = 4.)

Finally, I would say that it is easiest to teach and reach those who come prepared, eager and willing to learn. They are the most joy and also the easiest to teach as they have found their own motivation. (Why do you think more senior teachers tend to want the "easier" classes to teach, like the graduating ones, the Creative Writing classes, the Honours classes, etc.) Spend as much time as you can trying to reach the unmotivated, the silent, non-participatory ones. They turn out to be the ones MOST grateful in later years. The others will be happy, grateful for you anyway.