It's always encouraging to be reminded of how much the work we do matters, and it's even more exciting when those reminders are surprises, or at the very least, unexpected. It's interesting, too, to consider why we teachers don't expect all those positive outcomes from our work with our students and their parents and our colleagues. Have we gotten that far away from conceptual success that when it happens, really and truly, we are stunned? I'd like to think it's because part of our natures as professionals to know we're doing it right, to worry that it might not make a difference, and to be humble in the discovery that, indeed, it has.
I've been on a run lately. A lucky, meaningful, bring-tears-to-my-eyes run. Parents praise me for my communication initiatives. An administrator shares with me another parent's positive comments, but precedes the sharing of that information with her own appreciation for my insight and support that is somehow making her job "worth it." A union colleague thanks me for always responding to his questions and for my "years of advocacy." Yesterday, a former student, now a dear friend, visits from far away and tells me that if it hadn't been for me, he wouldn't be who he is. Mind you, I deny this. I say, "I only showed you the door, maybe held it open." He replies, "No, you pulled me through it. You were consistent when my parents weren't. You helped me with my college applications. You loved me no matter what. You made me." Okay, I did help him a lot, and I still would do practically anything for this late-20's kid, but really? I'm responsible for his awesomeness? No way!
I know he would read that and say, "Way!!" But still, I cannot help but think that it was simply my job to hold the mirror up for this kid so that he could see his progress, his passion, and his potential. For this one, and for all the others, too. We don't do it for moments like last night's. In fact, we really can't see them happening five, ten, fifteen, twenty years before they do. There's no anticipation, just crossed fingers, I suppose. Perhaps that's what makes the realization so deep and rich. We wanted it, we hoped for it, but we released it, too, somewhere along the way. And then, there it is again: hope realized, in the form of a man whom I am proud to call my friend, in another former student's Saturday morning text that says, "I owe you a lot of praise for inspiring me to teach," and in every child in our classrooms, year in and year out, whether we - or they - recognize it yet or not.
And while that's probably not why we chose teaching, it just may be why we continue teaching.