By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
It just might be that ten years from now one of your former students will decide to learn Spanish because he remembered some words you told him this year: "You can do anything you decide to do."
Perhaps a student who struggled in your math class, the one you helped learn how to "act as if," will one day walk into the high school counselor’s office and announce, "I have decided to go to college." Knocking on the counselor's office door could well be the first of many "act as ifs" he activates in the new few years.
Maybe one of the students who assisted with the Bystander Support Team in your homeroom will take what she learned about bullies to her place of employment years later and confront an office bully.
Chances are you'll never know. Students do not often go back and thank teachers years later for the insights they gained while in their classrooms. They do not frequently send appreciative e-mails describing the lessons they learned and applied in other settings. Sometimes they don’t even remember where they were exposed to or developed the interpersonal skills and character traits that now shape their adult lives. You may never know the full impact that your efforts this year will have on your students and the people they touch as they move through their lives.
How many times does it take a student to hear something, experience a consequence, or be exposed to a concept before it sinks in? Different amounts of times for different students, we suspect. But let's say the number for this particular student is 57. Maybe she needs to experience someone reaching out to her 57 times before she realizes people want to help her. Maybe she needs to be consistently given a consequence 57 times before she realizes the cause and effect relationship that exists between her choices and the results that follow. Maybe she needs 57 incidents of unconditional love before she recognizes her worth. Maybe 57 is her number.
What if you were number 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19? If so, you wouldn't get to see her day of awakening, her great excitement, her light bulb going on. You might be going home for the summer, thinking, "I didn't get to her."
Keep this in mind this summer: the 19th person makes the 57th possible. You cannot get to 57 without going through all the previous incidents. Is the 4th incident, the 27th, or the 47th any less valuable because they weren't number 57? We don't think so. The 12th is just as important as the 57th.
Refuse to bemoan the fact that you didn't reach this student. Remember instead that you were one of many who are needed to make the 57th possible. It just may be that your efforts this year have set the stage and made it possible for the real lesson to be delivered by the next teacher, next year. Or the year after that.
You may never realize the connection between your study buddy program, where third-graders invested time helping troubled first-graders improve their reading, and the eighth-grader’s decision to become a teacher.
You might not be able to connect the dots from the former cheerleader who commits to being a volunteer in the Habitat for Humanity program with the food drive that you organized when you were the cheerleadering coach several years ago.
Do you not think there is a link between your efforts to help baseball players respect their uniforms and the adult who dresses for success and shows that same pride in his business suit?
You may never witness a future situation where a student faces a problem that doesn't even exist yet and is able to apply useful skills when it occurs because you taught her how to think rather than what to think.
The student you taught in middle school to speak up for himself might speak up cleanly and clearly in his marriage long after you have retired from your professional practice.
Someday, the thought, “I always have more choices than I think I have,” will pop into a 30-year-old’s head as his basement begins to flood with water because in fifth grade you said to him 50 times or more, “Edwardo, you always have more choices than you think you have.”
In the future, a young mother will stop what she is doing, turn and face her child, give full body attention, and invite, “Tell me more,” because she saw you model that for her many times in the classroom.
Remember the time you said, “Tevi, that’s gossip. We don’t gossip in here because the person you’re talking about is not here to respond or defend themselves. What we do in this classroom is wait until the person is present and then check it out with them.” Did you think no one internalized that? One of your students will one day turn to a friend and say, “I’d rather not talk about her since she isn’t here.”
Do you think the time you invested this year teaching your students how to ask for help, get started quickly, ignore distractions, own their behaviors, disagree politely, or exhibit sportsmanship fell on deaf ears? Someone was listening. Someone was watching. Someone was learning.
Thank you for another year’s worth of teaching the world’s youth. Create a great summer. You deserve it.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.