Monday, July 14, 2014

Measuring a Teacher's Success

I am proud to say that I am the son of a teacher. My mother taught fourth and fifth grade. Well, that is until I came around. I have always said that her career in education was the first of several that I ended. I also knew that Mom was a good teacher, but it seems that I am constantly reminded by her former students just how good she was at teaching.
Let’s just say that her last year of teaching was over forty years ago and we will protect the age of all involved (including myself). There are very few things in this world that stand the test of time and especially four decades of time, but the impact my mother had on her students certainly did. Over the years I have met many of her former students and most have told me that Mom was their favorite teacher.
I also think it says a lot that both my sister and I went into youth work. My sister is a high school English teacher and I suspect she has the same impact that my mother did. I chose to go into 4-H work and I can only hope that in forty years my former 4-Hers will remember me as fondly as my mother’s students remember her. OK, so enough of the bragging on my mother, if she were alive she would really be embarrassed and probably a little peeved at me for writing this. So what is my point?
During my career in Extension we were asked each year to document the meaningful results and impacts we had during the past year. It was not hard in the agriculture part of my job. I could say I helped x amount of farmers with y problem and it resulted in this amount of economic benefit or a certain amount of increased production. Even in the area of community development I could say I did this and this impact was the expected benefit.
Those of us who have worked with youth know that documenting impacts and successes is just a bit harder. I often said, tongue in cheek that I was going to write down in my reports that none of my 4-Hers had been arrested in the past year and therefore I had saved the county several thousand dollars in court and jail costs. However, I also recognized that the kids I worked with would not get in trouble whether I as their 4-H agent or not. The bottom line is that those who work with youth often do not see the successes for many years but the benefits are profound.
Mom has been gone for several years now and I miss her each day, she put the same energy and dedication into being a farm wife and mother that she did into teaching. I guess that is why I always am lifted up when I meet one of her former students. I find it amazing just how much impact elementary teachers have and I can only wish that she heard from her students like I have over the years. I also know that what I have experienced is not uncommon or unusual for the children of teachers. Which makes me wonder why we don’t seek out those teachers who have made a difference in our lives and tell them.
Those are the impacts that each person who chooses any other kind of youth development work hopes to make on the kids they are charged with. We hope that something we do will push, pull, prod or inspire just one person on to bigger and better things, but we are never quite sure. You feel good about what you do, you know it is the right thing to do, but measurable results are often years  and lifetimes away.
I am quite sure that teachers are among the most patient professions, just by that very nature. It also makes me wonder just why we don’t hold them up, why we don’t put them on a higher platform. Each of us has been helped and inspired by a teacher and we credit them for helping us achieve whatever success we have accomplished, many times we don’t come to that realization for many years.
I will close this out before I get to gushy, because Mom would not have liked that either. She believed that whatever you did, you did it well and you did not do it to get praised. I will just say that there is something comforting and reassuring each time I talk with one of her former students. To them even after forty plus years, early impacts are meaningful and important.

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