Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Impact: You Never Know the Impact You Have on the Lives of Children

You Never Know the Impact You Have on the 
Lives of Children

As a teacher, we see our students and teach them life lessons while they are in our class, and then if we're lucky, we get to see them around campus for a few years to come. Then, there are students whom you lose contact with over the years, but then, if you're lucky, you might run into them again years later. Tonight, I had one such experience. 

Several years ago, I was teaching at an inner city, Title I school, where poverty is rampant, but doesn't have to be a way of life. However, there are students many who try their best to succeed, despite the odds. But as a teacher you never get to know if you have truly had an impact on your students' lives ... unless you happen to run into them years later. 

That said, tonight after my youngest son's first music concert, we decided to go to Wendy's. As the nice young lady took my order, a grin began to spread across her face. After she had taken my order, she asked, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but you look so familiar to me. What do you do?"

After I told her that I was a teacher and a published author, her eyes lit up as she asked if I had taught at the Title I middle school that I had mentioned above. When I told her that I did, she asked, "Is your last name Oliver?"

I smiled and told her that I was and a broad grin spread across her face. "I'm Megan!" she replied, filled with excitement. "You were my seventh grade Language Arts teacher!"

Immediately, I recognized  her and gave her a hug. 

After asking her how she was and what she was up to, she told me that she had graduated from high school and was preparing to go to college. She also said that she loved high school and was gathering the money for her college tuition. So, I told her about grants and student loans. 

Then, she told me about another student from that same class and that he is now a model. In my class, he was a trip, was quite funny and smart, and was always teasing me about something. Although I am far from perfect, I always had a good rapport with my students, although they knew the line not to cross. And as long as they didn't cross that line, we got along fine. 

Then, there was another student from that same class, Michelle. In my class, she was a smart student and tried hard to succeed, again, despite the odds stacked up against her. One day, she came to me and said, "Miss, I'm having a hard time doing my homework." After I asked her what the problem was, she proceeded to tell me, "I live in a hotel with eight other people, and every time I spread out my homework on the bed, the kids run in and jump all over it and I can't do my homework."

My heart immediately went out to this girl who wanted so badly to succeed. "Is there a pool at your hotel?" I asked.

She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face and replied, "Yes."

"Does it have tables with an umbrella over it?" I asked. 

She nodded.

"I'll tell you what," I said. "Only on pretty days, go out to the pool and do your homework under the umbrella. You can get some fresh air and it'll be quiet, too, so you can do your work." I thought for a moment, and then added, "But if the weather is bad, don't go outside. Then, the next day just tell me that you couldn't do your homework and I'll understand; no questions asked." I knew that this girl who tried so hard would never take advantage of it. 

She turned away from me, her eyes filled with hope, smiling as she thanked me and walked away.

A few days later, she stopped me after class, smiling from ear to ear and said, "Miss! Guess what? I can do my homework now!"

"Great!" I replied. "I'm so proud of you!" Then, I reminded her that if it was raining outside not to go out and she said that she would.

I saw her a few years later while standing in line at Walt Disney World. When she approached me, smiling, she asked, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Michelle!" I said and immediately pulled her in for a hug. She then told me that she was in her senior year of high school and was planning to go to college. Tonight, Megan told me that Michelle now works for Disney. She had worked hard and beat the odds.

As I said above, as a teacher you hope that you are making a difference in the lives of your students, but you never really know for sure. But after seeing Megan tonight, I realized that you really don't realize the impact you have not only on your students, but on the lives of people around you every day, until you happen to see them years later. 

Tonight, I felt so blessed and thankful to have had these students in my life. Every day, I learn just as much from my students as they ever learn from me. It's great to see students who never gave up and who have now succeeded at all odds. I'm just glad to have had a small part of it and to have had the privilege of having these wonderful young people in my class, for they have become wonderful adults. They succeeded because they worked hard and never gave up.

So, during this holiday season, offer a smile to someone who needs it, listen to someone when they approach you for help, be a friend to someone in need. Also, when children approach you for advice or a moment of your time, give it to them. For you never know the impact that you may be having in their lives. 
Theresa Oliver is a teacher and author who lives in Kissimmee, Florida. The names of the children in the article above have been changed.

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