Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 26, 2006

Here's to you - for all you do

Last week, Art asked me to read something he had written after he returned from the high school. He intended it as a personal communication to some of the people who work with our children each day, but I thought it was worth sharing with others:

"Another school year draws to an end. And with the demands that high-energy young people can place on a person, you're probably ready for it to be over, ready for a rest. Days filled with teaching, afternoons and evenings of being sponsors, dealing with disciplinary problems, paper grading and helicopter parents - well, it can be wearing. It can come to seem like just another job - nothing more than a way to put food on the table.

Most of you, veterans of many years, will be back next term - hopefully with batteries recharged. Others will cut back or go on to something different. A few will wonder if they made the right choice of location or profession. For some, those doubts will be justified.

But as a parent of three students - one graduated, one with five more years to go and one 'on loan' from another country - I'd like to share something with you before you leave.

Forty years ago this past spring, I became a teacher quite by accident. Twenty years ago, I left teaching to go into business. That change too was somewhat of an accident - and one I have never regretted for I would not want to give up some of the experiences I have had. It's been satisfying to know that items I have designed can be found in countries all over the world.

But it is the first two decades of my working life that I feel were the most worthwhile. Oh, it didn't always seem that way. Then I did it mainly for the fun. But now I often think back to a closing speaker at the end of a conference I was forced to attend 30 years ago to maintain my certification. He wasn't an educator, but a researcher. The core of his message was how you - a teacher - can change someone's life - for good or bad - and you'll probably never realize it.

I thought of him again this past week when I heard from a former student who had an awful time finishing school. School was hard for him and at every misstep, his family encouraged him to quit and join his Dad in the family painting business. I lost count how many times Jeff came to my office just to be reassured that he was making the right decision by staying in school. Over the years, we have kept in touch - we went to his wedding, we spoke when his Dad was killed in a traffic accident, we talked when new work opportunities arose . . . The e-mail this past week was about a new job he landed in the East. He now heads a software team and says it is a dream come true for him - a dream I doubt would have come his way if he had dropped out of school to paint houses.

I have had other experiences such as that over the years, but what strikes me is how often I have spoken to people who have pointed out some teacher or school counselor or coach who has made a big difference in their lives - and how rarely that person was ever told about the effect he or she had.

You and I are not so silly as to believe that we'll play instrumental roles in the lives of most of the students we touch. Most will do just fine without us - in some cases, in spite of us. But as that speaker of 30 years ago pointed out, if you keep just one person out of prison, you'll have paid your salary. If you keep just two, your contribution pays for a fireman or policeman. And imagine what it means if what you did causes someone to choose a profession that fulfills his or her dream.

So, while I wish you a happy summer, I don't want you to leave without letting you know that even if no other person put it into words this year, I will. I want to thank you for all you do."

Amen, Art!

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