Sunday, 26 January 2014

Making A Positive Difference - A Teacher's Legacy Revisited

Over the past few months our community has sadly said goodbye and observed the passing of several teachers. Such events are often bitter sweet, marked with sadness for the loss of community members sometimes taken too soon, but also with fond memories of who the person was, the lives they touched, and the tremendous contributions they made in the service of others.  For those who work with young people, leaving a legacy is inevitable, and as evidenced at recent memorial services, many make a tremendous positive difference. Having written on this theme before, I think its timely to revisit this topic in recognition of the educators who recently left us.

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,  the best teachers 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: "children are often singularly uninspired by the lives of most of the adults they know. They quickly note adults who 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 students 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 many teachers to find a permanent place in 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, who seem to genuinely care for and about students, and who genuinely like what they do and who they work with.  These teachers leave a real legacy as role models colleagues and friends. While the odds of most children to grow up to be rockstar celebrities are very slim, the existence and influence of great teachers is 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. 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's the real legacy of an educator. It's an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity. As clearly evidenced in the lives of of those who recently passed on before us, these educators took their responsibilities seriously and we owe it to them, our students and ourselves to draw inspiration from examples of fine lives, well lived, to make the most the opportunities still before us. Doing so both honours them and helps us to make a positive difference.

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