NOTE: I have previously posted this on this blog.
In my previous life chapter, prior to moving to Massachusetts, I worked in special education. Teaching (including substituting and working as a teacher’s aide) was my career for the better part of sixteen years, with a year or so detour as I tried to find my footing.
Many of us have a teacher who stands out in our memories as someone who had a profound impact on us. I have more than one: my kindergarten teacher, who realized I loved writing stories and allowed me to do so as part of my reading instruction; the tenth grade English teacher who further encouraged my writing; my college advisor, who recognized my awkwardness with others and tried to help me correct it.
I never thought I was one of those impactful teachers, though. I just did my job, enjoyed my students, and did the best I could to help them get where they needed to go.
One of the memories that stands out most strongly for me was when I left my longest-term position, as special education teacher at a very small rural school in Maine. Some of my students made great gains while I worked with them, and I celebrated those while never really giving myself credit. As far as I was concerned, the kids were the ones who got there. I just helped a little.
(Sometimes we minimize ourselves far too much. It’s definitely one of my flaws…)
Because the school was so small, I was the only special education teacher there, and I had the same students throughout, with some changes as some went on to high school and others entered kindergarten or moved into the district. I became close to some of the students and their families, though “close” is a relative term because professionalism.
But on my last day there, the mother of one boy with whom I’d worked from my first day came to me in tears, put her arms around me, and said, “You have made a difference.”
Those are words we all should remember, whenever we look back at the people we’ve encountered in our lives. No matter what our role was with each other, no matter how much time has passed, we all make a difference in the lives of those with whom we become involved. And we all need to recognize how powerful that difference can be.