Editor’s note: Names of teachers and students have been changed.
One of the first people I talked to about the different ways teachers add value to students’ lives was Mr. Bernard. He is now retired and he told me a story that had happened a few weeks before.
He was at a party when Mark, a former student from a few decades ago, came up to him.
Mark was excited to see Mr. Bernard, and he recounted that a week before, the pastor at Mark’s church had urged the congregation to think about those who’d had an impact on their lives and to reach out to them. Mark had thought of Mr. Bernard he and thought it incredible that they would run into each other so soon.
Mark then explained to Mr. Bernard the effect he had had on Mark’s life.
Mark had been trying to decide where to go to college. He played football and had some scholarship offers, but also had a chance to go to an Ivy League school with no chance of playing football.
He was torn. He went to Mr. Bernard, who had been his math teacher a few years before, to talk about the decision.
Mark remembered clearly Mr. Bernard taking the time to listen and share his thoughts. Mark felt that this conversation was an important part of the decision he made to make the more academic choice, a decision that Mark firmly believed had helped make his life what it was. It had been so important that 25 years after the conversation, Mr. Bernard’s name came to Mark’s mind first when asked to think of those who had positively influenced his life
Mr. Bernard was candid with me.
“I don’t remember that particular conversation,” he said. “My room was at the top of the stairs by the entrance to the math hall, and so a lot of students would pass by and see me on their way to class as I stood outside my door.”
Mr. Bernard remembered that many conversations with students sprung out of his fortuitous location. He’d see both current students and students he had taught in previous years. So he remained a presence for them, a listener, as well as a dispenser of advice and wisdom.
You can imagine how many Marks are out there who will never have the chance to tell Mr. Bernard the influence he had.
Clearly Mr. Bernard played an important role in the culture of that school and in the future lives of his students beyond the algebra or geometry they learned in his classroom.
Any notion of adding value to students must consider not only what happens to children in the classroom, but what happens later. Any conversation about effective teaching must also consider these interactions that happen outside the classroom. We need to make sure that we reward and value these contributions by teachers to the future success of students.
Jeremy Glazer is a Miami-Dade teacher writing a series about classroom issues for StateImpact Florida. Want to sound off on something Glazer has written? Want to suggest a topic for him? Send us an email at Florida@stateimpact.org and put “Classroom Contemplations” in the subject line.