I woke up this morning to a text message from a past student. He shared with me his success of becoming Head Boy of his high school and wanted to express his gratitude for the impact I had on his life while teaching him in primary school. He reflected on a key moment that, at the time, felt insignificant to me, so insignificant that I’ve not thought about it or praised myself for; so insignificant that I had to go back into the troves of my memory to relive the experience, so insignificant because I do it all the time – it was a moment that was just me being a teacher – just me being me.
I never would have thought that the several weeks I patiently supported him with a math concept, a concept that he just could not grasp, would go on to be a catalyst to his awareness of himself as a learner. When he finally got it, I praised his attitude towards his learning and told him it was this attitude that will make him successful in life, something I actually have no recollection of saying – words that came from my heart to his in what, at the time, would have have been a mere fleeting moment of my busy and stressful day. These words, he says, have stayed with him throughout his high school years and he has held them close as he navigated the twists and turns of young adult-hood. He expressed his gratitude for me, thanked me for my dedication towards his learning and for always believing in him, and told me he has no doubt I have done the same for many of my past students, something my heart now knows to be true, even if it’s never expressed.
I had tears rolling down my face as I read his words; so proud of him and all that he has achieved and so incredibly grateful for the acknowledgement and the heartfelt gratitude he showed me for the role I have played in his life. As I sit on the fence of my career as a classroom teacher, unsure whether to stay or go, I have been reminded of the impact we can make in this world. The impact we can have when we simply show up with a pure heart and work in a service based profession. The impact we can have with a simple gesture, a simple word, a simple act.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the impact we have on others, especially when we get so caught up with the stress that comes with teaching, but not just teaching – life in general: parenting, friendships, relationships and even casual interactions with people at the supermarket or the bus stop. We forget that our words and actions towards others can have such a profound impact on their lives. After a decade of teaching this is the only such message I have received from a past student and I may never receive another one. But my heart is full with the knowledge that at least one kid’s life was positively impacted because I showed up with my light and my heart and I taught him as best as I could with the knowledge I had at the time.
It gives my work meaning. It gives my work purpose. It reminds me why I am here.
The thing about impact is it’s hard for us to see in the moment; a lesson may not truly land for a student until long after they have left your classroom and it tends to be the lessons unrelated to a curriculum based concept but in the way you used your words – they way you use your heart – the way you use your light – that make the biggest impact.
I hope this can serve as a reminder for you of the profound impact you are having on the lives of the people around you, whether you are a teacher or not. You simply showing up and shining your light is changing lives, one interaction at a time, even if you can’t see it.