Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Power and Responsibility of Impacting Lives

Several educators were gathered around a patio table yesterday evening, and the discussion turned to the opportunity teachers have to save lives. A couple of the men were in their twenties, filled with enthusiasm, eager to change the world. As the educational veteran, I was asked to relate stories of students whose lives I may have influenced.

This got me to thinking.
A student will occasionally return to tell a favorite teacher thank you, and remind them of something that was said or done that helped smooth the way, or even changed the course of their life.
As teachers we like that. Those are the props that make our job worthwhile.

What we don't like to think about are the students lives we may have impacted negatively.
The angry tone, the mean-spirited criticism, a thoughtless remark taken to heart. All of these things can turn a child off. Make them hate school.
Rarely will a kid who was a promising athlete return to tell a coach that his name-calling made the student leave the sport. Less likely will a student seek out the English teacher whose harsh critique of a poem discouraged her from ever writing poetry again. I have numerous friends who will not sing, because an elementary music teacher told them to just mouth the words to a song during a school concert.
Most of us can recall a teacher who made us want to quit.

As teachers we are in a position to change lives. We need to take our responsibilities very seriously. We must always remember that as much as we are in a position to help, we are also in a position to hurt.


p. said...

Either I was extraordinarily lucky with teachers or, more likely, I had the ability to get along with adults from when I was young, because I cannot recall a "bad," discouraging teacher. I suspect the latter, because so much of education rides not on intelligence or other abilities but on how well you get along with teachers.
The ones you respond to usually respond generously to you, I think, looking back -- when I was in high school my main interest was in being a mild pain in the ass, but I wasn't really successful at that, for quite a few teachers took time to encourage me, and I suppose I couldn't help appreciate it, it's in my nature.
But I'm lucky. Lots of kids and adults talk about their own experience, being estranged from or on bad terms with educators, and a multitude of problems stem from it.
After 70 years, my father remembers the teacher who refused to let him go to "the basement" in second grade, whereupon he wet his pants. I wonder what he learned from HER.

Anonymous said...

I had a teacher who (unfortunately, due to her subject matter- advanced language) taught me for two long years in high school. For whatever reason, she picked on me, thinking it would motivate me to change my attitude (which was standard 16 year old f-you).

When my grandmother died, I had to get a prearranged absence slip signed by all my teachers, and she was the only one who questioned me about it. Rather than saying "I'm so sorry" and sign the thing like all seven other teachers did, I was met with a barrage of:
"how did she die?"
"When do you think you'll be back"
"do you plan to study while you're away at the funeral"
"were you close"

and finally I just mumbled something about needing to leave right after class, so could she please just sign the paper?

This was the first grandparent I'd lost, and my favorite to boot. I never forgave that teacher, and to this day, I won't look her in the face or talk to her (we actually attend the same church and live in the same town). She's still teaching, and I pity the kids who have her.

In my senior year, I had my choice of taking her class or the advanced choir I'd placed into, as they were both only offered once during the day.

I chose choir.