Lance Cash, Cohort 2015, shares his reflection on the power of the community to lead transformative change.
Today I received a short message from the Mum of a former student. It read “You deserve to take a bow for your amazing work and persistence with our son. #1 teacher. He is doing so well, we are so proud of where he is heading.” Yet when I reflected on this student, I felt uneasy reading this message, but not for the reason you might think.
I would be the first to admit that this particular student wasn’t always easy. He was a struggling student full of big dreams who swung between days of unstoppable determination to succeed and an unexplainable lack of belief in his own ability. As both his English teacher for two years and his mentor, I had spent some 400 hours with him. Some days he’d sit there convinced he could never do it. On one occasion after failing an assessment, he tore up the assessment in my face and stormed out of the room angry that he even tried to do well. However on other days he’d leave a lesson looking proud of his effort and progress.
When I really think about it, the reason I felt uneasy about his Mum’s “#1 Teacher” praise is not because I believe that I made no difference in his life. Instead the very opposite. At the end of two years I can firmly say I made a huge difference to his life and his future. I worked to give him the confidence to be himself, believe in himself, his dreams, and developing the skills to reach that future. BUT the key thing is that I did not do this alone.
That’s the wonder of teaching. You aren’t alone in your actions. Every child in your class has a community of dedicated teachers, mentors, friends and family who are working to see them succeed. On top of this, he had an incredible Mum, determined to see him succeed. The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is true. No one person deserves thanks alone for a child’s success in education.
And at the end of it all, your student is the one who really did it. Teachers, friends and family gave them encouragement, guidance and support; but they were the one that did the real hard yards, and saw it all through to the end.
If teaching has taught me one thing, it’s a deep belief in the power of communities to make change. Yes, a single teacher can make a difference. However if you really want to see transformation in the lives of young Kiwis, don’t be seduced by the story of the “one” teacher who made the difference.
For me, truly transformative change is not made by individuals, but by communities of people who are committed to a dream and are working together to make that a reality. In education, those dreams are the ambitions and hopes of the students in your class; and the privilege of being paid to make such a meaningful contribution to the lives and future of Kiwis makes teaching simply one of the best jobs out there.