Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Sparkling Ripples in the Life Pond

“You changed my life!”

Can you name all the people whose lives you’ve touched in a positive, significant way over the years? You might be smirking, “Mine wouldn’t be much of a list.” But you’re wrong. You have no idea what your list looks like, because influence is like tossing seed into the wind when you may not realize you did it. You never know which seeds flourish and which rot away. You ALMOST never know…

Recently, I had the rare good fortune to reacquaint myself with students whose lives intersected with mine 45 years ago—a time when we were desperate to begin the next phase in our young lives. I had begun my first real job teaching speech, drama, journalism, and English in a rural high school Cleveland had gobbled into its suburban sprawl. Since I was young and eager, most of the extracurricular tasks were shuffled onto me—directing the plays and musicals, sponsoring the junior class, running the newspaper, prom, and even graduation. The students who were just entering high school with me spent years working beside me, and we grew to depend on one another.

Still, I was struck dumb when one of my former students—now in his sixties—produced a series of notes I had written to him. I had forgotten how I used to write a personal note to each cast member after every play, encouraging and applauding that person’s part in the production, however large or small. The former student wanted me to sign his notes with the current date. The next night at the reunion of his class (I had been invited to travel there), two other students told me they kept my notes to them carefully preserved, as well. I felt like crying. But over the next few days I was to receive many more thanks from many more students who gave me credit for believing in them and caring when they needed caring most. My affection wasn’t feigned. I teach from the heart.

One student denied remembering me at first but later reminded me I had been ready to flunk him when his friend explained he was working three jobs to support his family. He fell asleep in class because he was exhausted. I passed him, and he wanted to tell me I had made the right choice. “I’m good,” he told me. “I did well.” Another student, formerly shy, credited me with giving him the public speaking courage to create an international charity.

So-called successful people sometimes wonder how anyone can go into teaching—an often denigrated, poorly compensated job. I have to admit, out of my many, many years in classrooms, few students have sought me out to say thanks. (I don’t make it easy since I move occasionally.) Several of my college students couldn’t recall my name while they were still in my class! Life surges forward and those who contributed are left behind. That’s okay. My philosophy is a teacher’s job is to make him or herself obsolete—to push the students into capable independence.

However, you don’t have to work a service job or any job at all to touch lives in a positive way. We all do it—maybe not as frequently as we could. We do it by looking through the exterior of those we meet to the imperfect human beneath, offering reassurance, knowing we aren’t so different. While I was teaching, I didn’t place blind faith in testing or authority. I placed open-eyed faith in the character of the students, people who make my lifetime worthwhile. All I can say now is, “You’re welcome. My pleasure.”

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