Recently I overheard a conversation where a person was musing on what sort of legacy he might leave behind. He questioned the depth, endurance or even desirability of legacies, suggesting that our contact with others, and the influence we exert is likely fleeting at most. I have to disagree. For teachers, leaving a legacy is inevitable, and as a consequence we have a duty to strive to make our influence as positive as possible.
Henry Adams, an American historian and academic once stated that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Because of this fact, teachers need to consistently bring enthusiasm and passion for learning to the classroom. Students respond to, and feed off the energy and attitude of the adults they encounter. This response becomes even more important as students reach the upper grades.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure notes: "teenagers are often singularly uninspired by the lives of most of the adults they know. Often their parents and teachers are not interested in their jobs. They spend long hours in drudgery for the sake of earning a living, and wait for their weekend free time, which is in turn filled with activities that are passive, uninteresting and fleeting. The majority of teens worry about this situation... and wonder how they can avoid a similar fate"
Csikszentmihalyi further suggests that it is little wonder that teens are captivated by examples of star athletes and entertainers who seem to enjoy what they are doing and achieve fame and fortune along the way. What is more surprising is the ability of some teachers to find a permanent place in some students' memories.
" What intrigues students about these teachers is their enthusiasm for subjects that seemed boring and purposeless in other classes. Memorable teachers challenge students to expect more than just recognition or a paycheck from the work they choose". Students remember best those teachers who model commitment and enthusiasm, demonstrate an ethic of care, and who genuinely like what they do and who they work with. These teachers leave a real legacy as role models. While the odds for most teens to grow up to be rockstar celebrities are slim, the existence and influence of great teachers can be proof that everyone can grow up to be an interesting and vital adult!
Child pyschologist and educator Haim Ginott wrote “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive
element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my
daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make
life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of
inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations,
it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or
de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat
people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought
to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” How we treat students inevitably shapes the people they become. That is our real legacy. It's an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity, and our best chance to prove that education matters!