Are We Even Making A Difference? Archived Post 1.25.10

Are We Even Making a Difference?

January can be a very bleak month in education.    The days may actually be getting longer, but the skies are so dark that it can be hard to notice.  We are being pushed forcefully through the funnel of midterm exams.    There is a feeling of frustration that we still have a half-year left and a feeling of desperation that there is only a half-year remaining.   We are getting closer to those days when school boards make the decisions that fund or eliminate our programs and our positions.  And we ask ourselves….

Are we even making a difference?

There were many Januarys (and Junes) when I was sure that the answer was no.

I was wrong.

I used to think that “making a difference” meant “fixing everything.”

I was wrong.

I never fixed a thing.  I never rescued a child from poverty.  I never saved a student from suicide.  I never turned a D student into an A student.

I never inspired a student not to drop out of school.  I never convinced every colleague to change a curriculum.  I never revamped a program that was a disservice to students.  I never turned an administrator into a building leader.

I never graduated a newly bilingual student.  I taught a rare few students who achieved a 100 on a state exam.    I couldn’t convince  a district to expand our program.    For fifteen years, I didn’t manage to take students abroad.   I didn’t coach a team that won a state title.

I often wondered WHAT I was doing.   I sometimes wondered if I should stop teaching.  I occasionally wondered if anyone would care if I did.

Then, little by little, the years went by.  Life forced me to look at things in a different way and my perspective shifted.  I realized that “fixing everything and saving everyone” were not part of my job description.  To be honest…..I figured out that for most teachers…there is no job description. …just a giant checklist.  A checklist that could never be completed.  So I stopped trying.

Realizing that I wasn’t saving/fixing the world and that I could never do it all freed me to finally do what DOES make a difference:  the day to day interactions with my students as citizens of the world.

My lessons became less about getting through the material and more about connecting the material to the student.    My focus changed from being the teacher to working with the students.  I began to listen.    I began to watch.   I stopped comparing my students to the ones I thought I should have and started to concentrate on appreciating the students I did have.

Students still struggle.   Students still fail.  Students still drop out.  Students still get pregnant, end up in rehab, get suspended, run away, and get sent to jail.   Parents may move them to another district.   Teachers may call them dumb or lazy.    Peer still talk them into unhealthy behaviors.   They still get cancer.   It wasn’t ever my job to stop those things.

It was my job to treat them as important, intelligent, interesting, capable individuals regardless of what what they did.  Regardless of what was done to them.

That I can do.  That really does make a difference.

with love,


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