Did I, Can I, Am I Making an Impact?

It was 2002 and I was a first year teacher greeting 5th grade students as they entered our classroom for the very first time. I was probably more nervous than they were. Thinking back, there is no "probably" about it. I was so nervous. My first year. My first class. So many ideas. I wanted to do my very best for these students. I did not want to let them or their parents down. Knowing what I know now...I should apologize profusely to each of the students and their families for that first year. I do not need to apologize for a specific event or anything like that, I'd just like to do my first year over again. Can I do that? Can I get a mulligan? Can I do the first couple of years over again? I want to ensure I made an impact.

16 years later, that first class of students has now graduated from college and from time to time I cross paths with one of them. Within the last year, three of my former students reached out to visit and discuss their futures. All three had aspirations to enter the field of education and I am happy to report, two of these young ladies have started their teaching careers. It begs to question..."Did I make an impact?"

This word, "impact" is one I reflect on often...

"Did I make an impact?"
"Can I make an impact?"
"Am I making an impact?"
"What can I do differently to make a greater impact?"

While on Christmas break, I received the following email:

Hi Mr. Arend,

I hope you’ve had a good first semester at your school and that everything is going well with you. I know it’s been quite a while since I saw you this last summer, a bunch has happened since then. I managed to find a job (finally!) before my graduation and had to move out here to Plainview, it’s a small town about 45 minutes north of Lubbock in the middle of nowhere where my mom was from. And I’m teaching 5th grade reading. It’s been really eye-opening and stressful and fulfilling and I’m loving it.

But I kind of wanted to thank you for when I was in your 5th grade class you read to us the Among the Hidden series, I don’t know if you remember this, but that was easily the highlight of my year that grade. But I decided to pass it on and read it to my own classes and they love it, they’re completely enthralled every time I read it. We’re already on the second book in the series and they’re constantly begging me to read to them every day. Some have already went out and bought the series or are asking for it for Christmas, just like I did all those years ago. It’s also amusing how stupefied they are when I tell them those books I have are from when I was their age.

So, I thought it’d be fun to share this with you, and again thanks for reading it to us. I’m hoping to make this a tradition and read it to my new classes every year. Hope you have a good last few days of school before break and have a happy holidays!

Wow! Can every teacher receive an email like this? This is what it's all about. I had to read this twice and then share it with my wife. Now, I would still like my mulligan, but how reassuring to know, all these years later that I was making an impact. I was making a difference. I recall exactly what she is taking about, although I hadn't the slightest idea she was so enthralled with the books at the time. (Let me take advantage of this moment and encourage all educators to take the time to simply read to their students.) Without hesitation, I can say I made an impact in this young ladies life. My hope is that she can be just as impactful for the students she is teaching. Imagine the ripple effect as the impact continues. There very well could be a teacher in the making in her classroom today.

Impact. Whether it's my "one word" for 2017 or simply a goal for the new year, it is what I hope to make. Through being intentional with my actions each day, I hope to positively impact my family, students, teachers, parents and other educators I come in contact with. If I can positively impact just one person who is able to pay it forward and impact another, I feel I am paying it forward and honoring all those who have positively impacted me on my journey.

As I think back on and sort through the memories of my first year of teaching, I believe I was able to make an impact. How big? I may never know. What I do know, is the students and families I served during my first year of teaching and each year since have made a tremendous impact on me.

Here's to 2017 and making an impact!