As the year draws to a close (four and a half days for me), I often find myself reflecting back on it. I consider instructional methods, pacing of material, whether I met the needs of all students, and ways I can improve with the next group of students that enter my classroom. Fairly standard thoughts for most educators, I imagine.
For many of you, what your students do outside of your classroom may also cross your mind. You follow their successes and sometimes their disasters. You celebrate and mourn with them over decisions they make that mold the young adults they will become. This year, however, I was deeply impacted by what one of my students taught me.
In the classroom, the courage and determination of my students is tangible. I see it, experience it, and embrace it throughout the year. This year I had a student, Student G, we will call her, who taught me a lesson that I would never have expected. In January she caught me before class one day and told me that she had an idea to help the homeless in our area of middle Tennessee. In a hurry to start class, I told her that I wanted to hear all about it, but after class.
Student G remained behind at the conclusion of the lesson and informed me that she was taking all of her birthday money to start creating “homeless bags” for homeless individuals she encountered with her parents as they traversed our small city. In great detail she described what she had purchased to place in these bags. I was dumbfounded. Here before me was an 11-year-old child telling me that she was making a difference for people she did not even know. In great amazement I listened to her for months about updates on the homeless she was assisting in our area. She had photographs of the individuals and even knew their names and the names of their pets. Most recently she has even branched out to create “family bags” with enough items to help two or more people.
As I write this I am reflecting on the teachers that had the greatest impact on my life. I can think of two distinct educators that molded the person I became in very subtle, but real ways. For the life of me I cannot remember the grades I earned or specific lessons they taught me. Instead I remember their character and dignity. I remember the example they set for our class, school, and community. Those were the lessons that proved to be the most valuable to me. As far as Student G is concerned, I will forever remember her character and dignity and the humility she shows complete strangers. The example she sets for others is greater than any lesson I could ever teach in the classroom.
So as you close out this year and say goodbye to your students for summer, I hope you know that in subtle and profound ways all year you have impacted souls that will leave with knowledge you have taught them — probably a lot that was never intended to be part of the lesson plan. I want to remind you that you have done good work and that your students will pay it forward in some small, or perhaps big way, in the future. Have a great summer and here’s to a job well done in 2012!