February 11th, 2010

Making a Difference


“Teachers shouldn’t expect to make a difference in the life of every student. They don’t and won’t. But making a difference in one life is a powerful motivator. We never forget those students who tell we have, and we are further motivated by those teachers who once made a big difference in our lives.”

Despite having written that a number of years ago now, I still believe it’s true. You never know when your teaching will have this kind of lasting impact; sometimes you don’t find out that it happened until years later; and sometimes you never find out. One of my very favorite colleagues has told me several times about a music teacher to whom he attributes his lifelong love of classical music. He lost track of the teacher only to rediscover him many years later. He was about to make contact—a personal visit and the then elderly teacher passed away. My colleague cannot recount this story without tears, “I never got to tell him what he did for me … never got to say thank you.”

Teaching with the goal of making a difference in a life requires faith—you have to believe it will and is happening even if the credit you deserve is never acknowledged. I think you have to find your way to a place where you are trying to make a difference without expecting to be recognized for all that energy that kind of teaching requires. Maybe the motivation is better sustained by thinking of the commitment as repayment to that teacher (or teachers) who so positively changed your life. Or maybe it’s what Roland Christensen observed some years back: “Like virtue, teaching is its own reward.” It feels good when you know you are doing your best to make a difference.

  • I know exactly what you mean. During our first year of marriage, my husband was pastor of a very small rural church in Louisiana, and I was the volunteer children's minister with a very small group of children in the group. We were only at the church for a year as it was a very hard area and situation, emotionally and financially.
    Then, out of the blue, 13 years later one girl from that children's ministry group googled my husband's name, found his contact information, and contacted us. She said she is married to a pastor, has a nursing degree, and was expecting their first baby. She told us that I (we) made an impact in her life at age 10 and she never forgot me (us).
    That good news came at a very down time in our lives, too. It was great to hear of our impact and investment; makes us want to keep on keeping on.

  • Paul

    WOW. So helpful. Thanks for this perspective.