Saturday, May 14, 2011

Students Who Have Made a Difference in My Life

Teacher tournament week on “Jeopardy,” prompted Alex Trebeck to ask the panel: “Have you had any students who have made a difference in your life?” What a great question. Several of my past students come to mind:

1.    Mark's influence:

M            Years ago I assigned sophomores an essay asking them to write about something in their lives that had changed over time. One student, Mark, wrote about dinnertime in his home. He talked about being the youngest child in a large family that maintained the tradition of sitting down together each evening to eat dinner together. Over time the older siblings grew up, went away to college, and got married. Eventually, Mark and his parents were the only ones remaining in the family home, and just as his siblings scattered, so did Mark and his parents go their separate ways at dinnertime. Mark wrote about how he missed that time with his family but not because of the food. He missed the discussion about school, work, activities, and other important goings-on.

My children were very young at the time, and after reading Mark’s essay, I vowed to give my children the gift of family dinners together at least three or four times a week. We often had an extra child sharing dinner with us, and my children still fondly remember our family dinnertime. I owe Mark and his insightfulness much gratitude for keeping me from falling into the trap of eating on the run or in front of the television. 

A   Allen's Story: 
A                     
 Al              Allen,  a quiet Asian student, modeled the ideal of a student-athlete, even as a freshman, which is the year I taught him. On weekends Allen’s family traveled to Salt Lake City, three hours south, so that Allen could play on a competitive hockey team. During the week, Allen honed his writing skills and spent much time conferencing with me about his essays. He never allowed his hockey obligations to interfere with his academics. As a junior, Allen brought his AP history essays to me for an additional perspective.

Of course, many students live quiet lives typical of Allen’s, but Allen did something unique for many athletes. For his senior year, Allen’s family moved to Colorado Springs so Allen could experience a higher level of competitive hockey and academics. Allen entered college on a full athletic scholarship and had dreams of playing professional hockey. But after one year, Allen dropped his athletic scholarship to concentrate on academics.


          In an email, Allen explained his decision, saying he did not like the privileges afforded athletes, such as immediate seating in restaurants, preferential dorm accommodations, and other perks. These made Allen uncomfortable. How many athletes have a moral compass that guides them to reject the bonuses that come from playing a sport at a major university? How many athletes are so troubled with the inequity and unfairness that they sacrifice their childhood dreams? This is what Allen did and why he remains one of the most impressive students I’ve taught.

          Without question, all teachers have stories about students who have made a difference in their lives. Mark and Allen are only two of many. Sometimes keeping focused on the positive characteristics of students is a struggle, especially this time of year when seniors who have avoided attending class find a newfound interest in the impending outcome of their choices!

          Sadly, sometimes those students who impact us most do so in negative ways. My goal is to focus on the positive, so I'll share more stories about the positive impact students have had on my life in the future. With thirty years experience, I have many tales to tell, and can write my own "Jeopardy" category!