How Far Does Our Influence Reach ? -former students: Aidan, Nicholas & EJ
Back in the seventies when I first entered the field of education, the following quote by historian and intellectual, Henry Adams seemed to be everywhere: "A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops".
While I may not have totally understood its meaning then, now, closing in on almost five decades as a teacher, I finally get it. And it is my many students and their parents who have shown me that in fact, the influence of a teacher, or in the case of the Little Folks School, where I worked for 38 years, the influence of an educational community, never stops.
Hardly a month goes by that I don't hear from one of my former students or their parents. Like my former sixth grade student from my first teaching job in 1972 in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania now in his forties, who reached out to me on Facebook. He wanted to tell me that my name had come up when a group of friends from Washington Elementary School gathered for a mini-reunion.
When I expressed my total surprise that he remembered me, he wrote the following: "Absolutely, your uniqueness made you memorable. You weren't in the 'cookie cutter' mold of most teachers of that day". I shared with him that, in fact, it had been my first year of teaching and that I was struggling to balance the demands of teaching and my life as a young adult. He responded, " you did a lot of things right, and you should be proud of that... as time went on, I grew to appreciate the qualities you had and the person you showed us. We were fortunate to be in your classroom".
Besides being incredibly touched, I had a renewed appreciation for the important role that teachers can play in the lives of their students. And for the first time in almost five decades, I remembered the Henry Adam's quote. I also realized that the greatest gift we can receive from our children and students is the reminder that we have touched them in meaningful ways.
When this week, a parent of one of my former students shared a photograph on Facebook of her son, and two friends (all former students of mine) who have reunited in South Africa for a college semester abroad, I was given that gift. Her message that 19 years later, these three young adults still had the connection that they forged in my nursery school class, filled me with joy.
Unfortunately, at times the communication from former families is triggered by sad events, like illness or death. When current fifth grader, Aidan visited Washington from California to attend a memorial service, his mother made time for him to connect with former Little Folks friends, E.J, who lives in DC and Nicholas who was visiting from Boston. Watching these middle school boys sit and talk, years after they first met and long after they had all moved on to other schools, and in this case, other cities brought tears to my eyes.
When former students and parents reach out to connect with me and each other, I get a glimpse of an eternal force that binds us and an influence that knows no boundaries. I am filled with gratitude.