Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lasting Impact of Teachers

As teachers, we can never be fully aware of the lasting impact our words or actions may have on our students. I often lament, for instance, that I dread open house or parent conferences because I can only imagine what stories my students bring home to their families. Will they tell mom and dad about the incredible lesson I taught, or that I did so without realizing that one of my pants pockets was hanging out all period like a floppy dog ear? My instinct is to assume the latter.

Last weekend, I shared one of my favorite stories with a small group of college students enrolled in my English Methods course at Medaille College. I think about that story often and it serves as a constant reminder that everything I say or do while in school has the potential to make a monumental impact on my students. Afterward, it got me thinking about some of my own experiences as a kid, and there’s one above all the others that stands out.

In 7th grade, one English assignment required us to write an original poem to demonstrate our understanding of mood and imagery. I don’t remember much from the assignment other than procrastinating until the night before to actually put something down on paper. The result was actually quite good. I remember being proud enough to show my parents before submitting it the next day.

I didn’t realize it then, but that assignment would ultimately shape my life and help shape my career as an English teacher. Below is a scan of the original poem. Read closely the red-inked comment from my teacher.

I was devastated by my teacher’s remarks. By suggesting that the poem was too good to be my own, I felt that he was implying that I was stupid. Whether this was his intention or not, it has stayed with me and I think of it every time I write critiques or constructive criticism on my own students’ works.

Your job as a teacher is to influence. The scary part is that you don’t know how or when that influence will happen.

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3 Responses:

librannie said...

I can understand your disappointment with your teacher's comments and insinuations, but I probably would have asked the same questions. This poem is very, very good and the imagery does seem very mature. I guess you should be proud that people assume that is was written by someone much more sophisticated. I do get your message though that teacher's words can have such a strong impact.

Emily Printz said...

It is so true that teachers never even know how or when they influence their students. I am not a teacher yet, but I have had quite a few experiences with this in my career as a student. As a future educator I am going to try my hardest not to discourage my students. If I have a question about their work I will ask it in a way that is not accusing them of something. It seems like your teacher automatically accused you of having someone else write your poem. Teachers' words and actions have a big impact on their students and I will try and be aware of this when I am a teacher.

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