Do you remember teachers that made an impact on you? I remember Mrs. Quinius, my first grade
teacher. I don't really remember a lot about her. (It has been a long time ago.) But I do remember her kindness and gentleness. I remember finding a birthday card on my desk on that special day. She impacted me and made me loves school even more. She taught me that a teacher cares for and about students.
I remember my senior English teacher, Mrs. Klipple. She challenged us to do different types of assignments (such as one-on-one book reports). She taught me that split infinitives were less desirable in writing. She made me think and helped me become excited about things instead of just checking off assignments in class. She taught me that learning can be accomplished in many different ways and can be challenging to all levels of students.
But the teacher I most often think about when I think back is Mrs. Jennings, my first Sunday School teacher. I was around 7 or so when we began to go to church regularly. Mrs. Jennings taught me all kinds of things about the Bible. What I remember most about her is her faithfulness in teaching. Many times I was the only student in her class. (Our church was small.) She always arrived ready to teach and helped me learn. She encouraged me and respected the fact that I may not talk much or needed a little time to think before responding. She taught me that every individual student is important, that a teacher is teaching individuals not "a class."
The impact of a teacher goes beyond the individual students he encounters. Each of these teachers are continuing to make an impact because they influence who I am and what I do as a teacher. When I see a teenager helpng in a preschool class, a teenager that I taught as a kindergartner, I see the continuing impact of my teachers. They are continuing to influence lives through me. And through the actions of my students, as they grow and learn and impact others.
How can you be a teacher of impact? Here are three ways. (There are many more.)
Listen - Kids, especially small kids, may not have anyone who really listens to what they say. Adults may nod or give a quick response. But kids need someone to really listen to them. Listen to the stories that your kids share. Ask questions. (That shows you heard.) Make connections. ("You drew a crocodile because you saw one on your vacation.") Be available to talk whenever it's possible.
Pay attention - Notice what your kids like to do, as a group and as individuals. Notice what they avoid. Notice when they struggle with something. Notice when they improve. Listening is more than just hearing the kids' words. It's paying attention to all they do. Provide ways to extend their interests. Help them discover how to improve and how to excel (by challenging them instead of telling them).
Remember - Kids love when you listen and when you notice. They connect when you remember. Remember what the pet's name is. Or their favorite color. Or that silly story they told you. Mention it when you are talking to kids. Once, in my church class, I mentioned the name of a boy's school teacher. "How did you know that?" he asked. "You told me. Remember?" I said. His smile was wider than his face. I know it's hard to keep all that stuff in your head. But tuck away a small tidbit that you can use in conversation when the subject comes up. The impact is great.
On days when I wonder if it makes any difference what I do, I think about being a link in a chain. Teachers impacted me; I impact kindergartners; they grow to impact others. And I know that all the struggles and triumphs have lasting significance.