90: Making a Difference

90: Making a Difference

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Making a Difference

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.

~Robert Louis Stevenson

Reflecting on more than two decades of teaching is not as easy as it may sound. My experiences have been many, the students diverse, the days long, my patience tested, but my endurance strong. You see, I always promised myself that I wouldn’t just do something to “do it.” I wouldn’t just occupy a desk, office, or classroom for the goal of punching in and punching out. My goal was to wake up in the morning with a purpose, spend my days helping children understand, and fall asleep knowing that I made a difference. It was a good goal… noble, respectable, and simple.

I’ve never been confused about my purpose and I thoroughly enjoy being involved with a child’s learning and understanding. However, have I achieved my goal? Do I fall asleep every night knowing that I made a difference that day? Humbly, the answer is no. As a matter of fact, the days spent hoping that I am making a difference far outnumber the days of knowing.

Living in a small agricultural community in Iowa, I am surrounded by cornfields, bean fields… and more cornfields! The farmers often talk about seed, time, and harvest. They always know what to sow, when to sow it, and where to sow the seed. I witness the farmers planting seed with a work ethic and fervor that instantly gains my admiration. They cannot afford to focus on anything other than sowing seed!

Once the seed is in the ground, with absolutely no evidence of a single plant in the field, the farmers begin watering and fertilizing that which was sown. They invest countless hours providing for and protecting their unseen crop. They realize that time is an essential ingredient in producing what they desire. The expectation is high, regardless of what they have seen up to that point. After a while, the crops are fully grown. The farmers get to harvest the fields, and see the result of their labor. They no longer wonder if the work was worth it… they know that it was!

There are days when I come to school with important decisions, deadlines, family issues, lack of sleep, etc. taking priority in my mind. I look at the lesson plans prepared for that day, knowing that I could easily hit the Auto-Pilot button, coast through the day, and pass the time until I could attend to more “important” matters. I glance up at my class and notice several elementary-aged children with similar concerns. They are also coming to school with important decisions, deadlines, family issues, lack of sleep, etc. They want to hit the autopilot button worse than I do!

I have had to pause and ask myself, “What could possibly be more important than watering and fertilizing these precious seeds?” I am happiest when I am reminded of this fact, and understand that a difference will be made regardless of the evidence that is shown that day.

I’ve sown seeds impacting the lives of hundreds of students over the years. I do my best to stay in touch with my former students, hoping to get a glimpse of the harvest that I’ve sown. I hope I have made a difference to all of my students, but I know I have made a difference to some. They’ve expressed that to me in a variety of ways. At times, former students come back to my classroom to show me their report cards, just come to talk, or bring me schedules of the extracurricular activities they are involved in. However, I will never forget the day I received a specific letter from a former student.

This letter came at the perfect time. I had just spent several days hoping that I was making a difference, seeing little to no results in my classroom. I still have the letter and look at it often. It reads:

Dear Ms. H:

You were my teacher in fourth and fifth grade. I still remember the lessons that I learned in your class to this day. I remember how I used to sit in my seat and complain about certain math problems and how I’d never learn how to do them. You insisted that with your help and lots of effort on my part I would understand. You were right. You taught me that it is important to work hard and try because nothing is impossible to learn or do.

You have been there for me on countless occasions with both academic and personal issues. For example, you were willing to listen and help me when I was having a hard time dealing with my parents’ divorce. You became someone I look up to, trust, and admire. You always said that we were your children because you didn’t have any of your own. I know you truly care for all of us this way.

So, for always being there for me in the good times and the bad, I want to thank you and let you know that you will always have a very special place in my heart.

A teacher’s commitment never begins and ends with the first and last bell of the day. A teacher’s thoughts never remain in the school buildings overnight. A teacher’s love for his or her students never fades at the end of the school year. A teacher’s greatest reward is impacting lives, knowing that a difference has been made.

~Linda Heffner
2009 Iowa State Teacher of the Year
Elementary teacher, grade 4

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