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Are We Making a Difference?


This question weighs on me more than any other. I teach elementary school. A large number of the students I work with are considered at-risk. At risk. What does that mean? Aren't we all at-risk? At risk of going through life without ever experiencing unconditional love. At risk of failure, not being recognized or appreciated, at risk of death and disease. My children are no more at-risk that I am. Our risks are just different.

I find that some of my children have trouble keeping their eyes open on Mondays when they first come into class. There is a story about a couple who lived in a tough neighborhood. Gangs were common. Violence was a necessary skill. This couple moved into the neighborhood to try to affect some change in the children who lived there. They opened up their house for the kids. This couple began to build relationships with some of these violent gang members. The couple began to notice that many of the children would fall asleep after being in the house for a while. They realized they must be boring the children and felt they should try to add more activities or spice things up a bit.

One day, the wife asked one of the boys why he always fell asleep at their house. He responded, “My home is filled with anger and frustration. I have to stay on guard. I have to sleep with one eye open. It is different here. I can relax and just sleep.”

I don't mind so much that some of my children need to sleep on Monday mornings.

I also find that they become increasingly more irritated as the weekend grows closer. They tend to misbehave more on Fridays. I often wonder what their lives are like at home. I wonder if they have to stay on guard and sleep with one eye open. Statistics say that some of them are abused, neglected, unloved. Maybe if they get in trouble on Friday we will just keep them at school all weekend. Maybe that is what they are hoping for. Maybe they are terrified, but they just don't understand it fully or know how to express it.

I try to be more patient with them on Fridays.

This may get me into trouble, but I am not overly concerned with the daily educational grind of my students. I would sacrifice a hundred daily concepts and computations if I could just instill in them the idea that somebody (me) out there thinks they are valuable and believes in them.

Am I making a difference? I don't know.

How much did my teachers impact me? There are a few that I remember. There was Ms. Rice in third grade. She is the first teacher that I remember distinctly. She was tall and thin, and she had beautiful red hair. She was my first crush.

There was Mr. Erhart. He made history interesting. Most importantly I remember that he cared about us as individuals and not just how much history we remembered.

Ms. Presley was one of my favorites. She was another one of my beautiful teachers. I had a crush on her as well. She saw past our classroom antics and made us aware of hidden potential that was lying dormant within us. I remember she sent me a note the summer after I had her class. My mom always told me I could do anything I wanted with my life, but it was nice to hear it from a non-family member.

Finaly, there was Ms. Bouroughs. She may be one of the most eccentric people I have ever met. She pulled some comments from outer space. She said some wild stuff. She also read Dickens to us, Great Expectations. She had different voices for each of the characters. I was mesmerized. She gave me a love for reading. Dickens remains one of my favorite authors.

These teachers definitely made a difference in my life. They either built up my confidence by showing that they cared about me and thought I was special or they gave me a love for learning that stayed with me.

That is what I try to do with my students.

Are we making a difference? Are you?

I always told myself that I would quit as soon as the children became the enemy. Do you know some teachers like that? The ones that won't quit because they don't want to lose their vacation time. The ones that don't even like children. Those teachers are probably not making a difference. And sadder still—they probably don't care.

They are not my enemies. If fact, they are always making a difference in my life. I have changed more things about myself because of what kindergartners have said about me than everybody else in my life put together. Ahhh, that wonderful honesty.

What about the rest of us who are desiring to make a difference? I must admit that I haven't had that student who has come back to me and told me how much I made a difference in my life. Hopefully I just haven't been teaching long enough yet. Some teachers I know have seen the mystic unicorn. They have received the wonderful validation from a former student that they have indeed made a difference. I hope you have as well. I hope to see the unicorn one day.

For now I will just keep loving on my kids. I will keep telling them they are special. I will keep praising them when they do well or make a positive choice. I will help them work though the negative choices and teach them about consequences. I will try to make learning fun and hope that someday they will be able to fly on their own.

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