The Influence We Have on Students

I think teachers often feel rather powerless, as if they don’t have any influence or really make a difference with students.  Actually, I think we have far more power than we realize.  I remember being in a district teacher training session a few years ago, and a former student of mine–now a teacher–was present.  As a type of team building, we were all asked to share our favorite books and authors.  When my former student shared, she said that her favorite book and author was one that I had introduced her to as a sophomore in high school. I was stunned, even though I always talk about how my mission in literacy is to find the right book for the right student.  Her comment actually brought me to tears!

It’s not unusual to hear people who are receiving awards refer to teachers that made a difference for them.  I think it’s these types of comments that have special meaning for us as teachers.  Often, we do not see our students once they leave us, and unless we run into them or their parents, we  rarely know what happens to them in later life.  With social media, that is now changing, but for most of my teaching career, it was very true.

As I was reading through the Costco Connection yesterday, I stumbled across a story that amazed me.  A feature article focused on Georgia Hunter and her new book, We Were the Lucky Ones. In the article, Georgia discusses her journey of writing the book, and (English teachers pay close attention here!) it all started when her high school teacher assigned an I-Search project for students to explore their ancestry. Hunter interviewed her grandmother, and much to her surprise, learned that she was descended from Holocaust survivors.  She says she didn’t think much about it again until she attended a family reunion six years later and heard more stories.  At that point, she decided that she needed to learn more and set off on a nine year journey around the world that culminated in her new book.

While I’m now on the library wait list to read the book, that’s not the important point here.  What’s important is that a writing project assigned to Georgia as a sophomore in high school has had such a profound impact on her life.

We often hear about the importance of relevancy in education.  It’s relevancy or the lack of it that keeps students engaged in school or leads to their dropping out.  If we want to have our students engaged and interested, we must constantly think about how the work we assign engages, what meaning it has to their lives, and what impact will it have on their learning.  And in so doing, we influence both their current state of learning and their future.

And now, I’ll just wait to read the book…


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