When I think of all the people I encounter, I realize they all have made some difference in my life:
My colleagues challenge me to rethink my practice. They do so in a lot of ways but one way is simply by sharing their own practices. They share difference.
My spouse shares an insight from her readings, and I learn something new and make a slight adjustment to my thoughts about life and how we live it.
My friends share themselves and time with me, further encouraging me to be present and not bury myself in work.
If I turn this around and think about the difference I make as a teacher, simply due to the volume of students I have had pass through my classroom, I realize the potential for making a difference is dramatic. If my math is right, I've taught about 4,000 students. Now that's no Taylor-Swift-Twitter-numbers, but I've also spent 45-180 hours with each of these people. And if I taught them more than
one semester or year or coached them, add even more hours to that. That is a lot of time being present with someone. It's hard not to make some kind of difference in all that time.
In the smallest way possible, I hope to make a difference in teaching my students how to write. But what they take from these efforts of mine will vary. A couple weeks ago, I ran into a student from last semester who thanked me profusely for helping her during that class. She assured me that she felt really good in her current class because of all that I asked her to work on. I was surprised when her eyes welled up with tears, and I thought, Wow, she took way more from my class than I could ever plan for.
In a more personal way, I try to recommend my students for items they may find personally interesting. I've sent two returning students over to Debbie to discuss the honors program, and both of them are now taking honors courses. I like to recommend scholarships to students and even assist them with their applications if needed. I've written countless letters of recommendation, most recently for a student who wants to participate in a Study Abroad. Even when students are not successful, I believe what I have written about them has the potential to make a difference in how they perceive themselves.
I think I make the most difference in people's lives in my role as a teacher, but all of this "difference" spins out of relationships. Relationships matter, and they give us a chance to become more reflective and to grow in knowledge and experience.