Sunday, November 05, 2006

You'll never know when you're making a difference

Teaching middle school is a funny thing. Year after year, you work with students in perhaps the most tumultuous time of their lives. School sucks. Parents are lame. And all authority is to be challenged. We do our best, then let them go.

Years later, an amazing phenomenon unfolds. Some of them come back. They tell tales of moments amidst the middle school chaos that penetrated their identity-crazed self-obsessed beings and affected their very core. Out of the 226,800 moments of their middle school careers (defining a "moment" as one minute), it never ceases to amaze me which moments earn this influential honor.

A sophomore came back and shared a recent English 2 assignment with me about the pressures she feels in high school. She was not a student I was particularily close to; in fact, I rarely recall exchanging any words with her outside the curriculum.

In her paper, she recalls the first few minutes of ninth period of her 7th grade year, a set of moments that have long escaped my memory. She states in her paper, "I don't remember much of what she said that day, or really anything from that entire year. But that day, she unintentionally taught me the most valuable lesson of my life."

She proceeds to write a verbatim record of my brief statements explaining why I have never experimented with tobacco or drugs. My comments lasted no longer than a minute or two, though, according to her, "my life was drastically changed for the better that first day of seventh grade."

I am aware of my words, actions and reactions every moment of my teaching experiences. Among the clamoring adolescents, I just never know who might be listening.

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