I’ve been a high school teacher for almost twelve years now. I’ve spent the last nine years at the same school and very recently I informed my boss that I’ve acquired employment elsewhere. For the days following I was waiting for my boss to inform my colleagues to make it all official, and I was busting at the seams to tell other people close to me. Soon enough the announcement was made and I followed it up with an announcement on social media.
I still keep in touch with many of my ex-students. It’s been a great joy for me to see them grow into young adults and reach those significant milestones in life: finishing their tertiary studies, getting their first full-time job, getting engaged and married, and then having kids of their own. It’s humbling knowing that you’ve had a small part to play in the development of the next generation. As a teacher though I’ll confess that while you work tirelessly to plant the seeds of influence, you don’t see the results of that immediately and often you’ll convince yourself that you’ve failed. It takes time. Teaching requires a great deal of patience. Teaching is not just about education of the mind, but an education of the heart and spirit too. As a male teacher quite often you’re the only male of influence a child might have in their formative years. It is crucial that – like with your own children – you act justly towards them. Be firm, be fair, be kind, but also be strict (without thumping your chest like a gorilla) when the situation demands it.
A few days ago as I shared the news of my new job appointment, I had a few ex-students chime in to congratulate me. Some students shared their memories of me as their teacher. Some students told me that they were scared of me at first (I’m a big guy with a big, loud voice) but as they got to know me they respected me. Other students commented on the “good vibes” they got from me when they came into my classroom and this was pleasing to hear too, but it was one bit of feedback from a young man that I got that really made me think about the influence I do have as a male teacher; a father-figure to some, I guess. This student wrote:
“Even though you never taught any of my classes, I want you to know that you still managed to add value to my life. You were a great encourager and one of the reasons I was able to walk out of school confident in who I was. I only ever felt uplifted after every conversation, and I strive to do the same in my life for those around me. Can’t say I’ll be forgetting the mark you’ve left in my life anytime soon. Thankyou!”
Everything that you do matters; every interaction is important. Even though I thought what I was doing with this young man was very small and insignificant, by his own account it had a significant impact on him. As a father, as a teacher, as a coach, as a camp leader, and what not, you have the power of influence. Don’t underestimate just how powerful that can be, even if what you think you’re doing is trivial.