being a teacher, difference, making a difference, Passion

What Type of Difference Do You Make?

I have been accused of being a good teacher, something I carry with me when the days are long.  I say accused because I am still looking for the proof, the evidence that indeed whatever it is I have chosen to do makes a positive difference in the lives of my students.  We know we make a difference every day, however, we do not always know whether it is a good or a bad one.  And as teachers we make the choice of what type of difference to make.

When I was child I was bullied by my classroom teacher.  For 3 years she hated me with a passion so deep that I ended up switching schools and leaving everything behind.  I was different, having been taught English at a young age, and she did not like anything about me.  She stopped friendships, singled me out whenever anything went wrong, and once kept me in a closet. It was extreme, and not something many students thankfully ever have to experience, but she made a difference in my life.  She taught me how exactly not to treat a child.  How exactly to make a child feel unwanted, unloved, and like an overall outcast.  She taught me many things.

Another teacher thought that I just wasn’t trying hard enough.  Every conference, he would tell my mother that I was smart, but…obviously, I thought school was a joke.  He thought my essays were too dark, too long, too sappy.  He thought my witty comments in class were not so funny.  No matter how hard I tried to emulate the students he did like, he did not like me much.  I never got the good jokes or the extra remarks.  He taught me to believe in myself even if someone didn’t get it.  He taught me it it is ok to be too sappy or too dark as long as it is not all the time.  He taught me that my mother believed in me no matter what he said.

And then there was my music teacher.  Oh, for two years she thought I was a musical idiot.  Although I asked her for help when it came time to compose, she offered me the same explanation over and over again, hoping that this time it would make sense.  It didn’t and what I composed sounded crazy, yet, I had no idea, because I didn’t know how to play it.  I scored high on performance but crashed in music theory and composing, leading me to abandon being a music teacher.  She taught me to explain things properly to my students, and not in the same way but in a different way.  She taught me to listen when someone explains why they do not get it and not just jump to conclusions and move on.  She taught me that I am supposed to believe in the abilities of my students and not box them in.

There were others.  Others who didn’t get me, didn’t believe in me, or lost me as a student.  Thankfully there were many as well that liked me, supported me, and nourished me.  All of of my teachers shaped me into the teacher I am today, however, those that harmed me somehow shaped me more.  They taught me what not to be, provided the example of how not to teach, how to shut out and disillusion.  So when we speak of making a difference in our students lives think of what type of difference we want to make.  Do we want it to be of negative consequences or positive?  Either way, we make a difference, but it is up to us to decide which type.  I hope you choose wisely, after all, these are just children.

5 thoughts on “What Type of Difference Do You Make?”

  1. This is the kind of thing that many of us need to read – a kick in the pants that says "Maybe you're not as great as you think you are." I know my kids look up to me, but how often do I abuse that with an offhand remark that may carry a lasting impact (even if I don't intend any harm)? Ultimately, I like to think I'm doing more good than harm, but this post forces me to reconsider.

  2. Don't sell yourself short, Mrs. P.! I watched your "Innovation Day" video this weekend and was amazed at what was happening in your classroom. Your students look happy, engaged, and excited about learning. I would say that video is proof that you are making a positive difference in their lives.

  3. I love this essay. I could have written this post just inserting a variety of other experiences. One teacher (in 2nd grade) told me "if at first you don't succeed, cut your neck and watch it bleed." Which haunted me somewhat. I wrote a blog about it while back. Their weaknesses don't get in the way of our jobs, they are our jobs. So I offer the best compliment I think a parent or teacher could give. I would want my kid in you class. Because if a problem arose,I bet you would see it. Then having done so address it. Don't lose faith amidst the edu drama and resistance. With a sense of mission like yours change the world.

  4. Thank you so much all for your comments. Matt, I always think a great big reality check is healthy for our egos, no matter how awkward and painful it may be. There are definitely moments I want to change, we learn from our mistakes.Aimee, thank you for this compliment. I never know whether to take credit for my students' engagement or whether i should take chit for not killing their curiosity.n I think perhaps it is a little of both.Readytolearn, wow, you do pay me the ultimate compliment. Entrusting a child with a teacher is a choice we make every day whether we genuinely support it or not, so to willingly hand over your child to someone? Thank you!

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