Some time ago I wrote about some of the things our students remember (link - sorry for the bad formatting). Lessons, concepts, stories, or even small jokes I remember telling but had no idea that they left a lasting impression on any students.
Fast forward to yesterday. I spent some time yesterday at a friend, a former student's company for their holiday get together. My friend was telling a story about how I helped get him started - I won't get into details but while I do remember the overall impression of including and encouraging him, I don't remember the detailed specifics. Another sign of getting old.
It made me think of not only the things they remember that we remember but also what most surely be many things that as older teachers we no longer remember yet may have stuck with our students.
I've spoken to former students a few times and they'd tell me about something they'll "always remember" and usually it's a pretty cool but ultimately, just a small CS technique or work approach fact. Other times, like the story that was told yesterday, it's a reminder that at times we can have a tremendous positive impact and sometimes we don't have to do much more than be decent human beings. Over the last few years, I've been told a few times by older alums, just as a throwaway comment how I created a "safe place" for them. Funny, I may have done that by some throwaway comment or action by me and it meant a lot to them. Now yeas later, I'm the one who's greatly moved by their throwaway comments.
Unfortunately, there are probably things I've inadvertently said or done in my career that have adversely affected some students but for better or worse, we rarely get feedback on that.
It goes to show the tremendous impact teachers can have even with small gestures.
Even the good stuff, many teachers never hear about it. This is one area that I feel both truly fortunate and humbled. Being in touch with so many former students and with so many now friends, I've been given the gift of hearing and seeing what I've done. I can't say why, but I think those of us who teach CS seem to get this opportunity more than other teachers, even when our students go into totally unrelated fields.
I think about my old teacher, mentor, and friend Herb Greenhut - a history teacher who made such an impact that he was frequently included in his former students life events - weddings. receiving birth announcements and so on and even got a Mayoral Citation in his later years. I've been fortunate to get to enjoy some of these "gifts" but I also know that many teachers, better than I and very well regarded have not. I blame that on circumstance.
Why am I writing about this? Beyond yesterday's reminder, I've been reflecting more about my career as I prepare to leave the classroom full time. It's also important to point out to other teachers out there that yes, our profession is in many ways thankless but there are some rewards that money can't buy and even if you're not hearing about the impact you've had, you've probably still had it.
For the younger teachers, it's there, you just have to stick with it long enough for your current students to go out in to the world.