Being a teacher is so difficult on so many levels. Classroom teachers must be able to juggle IEP's and parents and disruptions and personalities and procedures and grades, all while wearing a smile and making everyone around them feel happy. The thousands of things that teachers must do in the classroom force every day to fly by, leaving little time for reflection. The students move on at the end of the school year, and you may say to yourself, "Did I make any difference at all in the lives of my students this year?" From my viewpoint, if you are a carpenter, you can point proudly to a staircase and say "I built that staircase." If you are a stonemason, you can look at a chimney, and say "I made that chimney." If you are a doctor, you can tell a patient "You are well." But one facet of teaching that I have always found to be particularly dissatisfying is this: teachers never have a "finished product" to show for your work. The purist might say that there are test grades and other measurements to use as guages, but all of those scores do not make a finished product. However, sometimes, if you are really lucky, you will receive some little rewards along the way that let you know that you did, indeed, make a difference. I have been fortunate enough to have this happen on many occasions, but I was extremely lucky to be a recipient of a very big "thank you for making a difference" on Saturday, and I would like to share my story with you.
Saturday afternoon, I left the Delta Kappa Gamma meeting and luncheon, which was held at Treesdale Golf and Country Club. (Female teachers- this is a service organization for retired and working female teachers. They do some great work and also give scholarships.) I decided to travel north to get a few items at the Walmart in Cranberry. (Yes, this good news story actually happened in the Walmart parking lot! With all the crazy emails about Walmart, I have good news from there!) I was walking with my packages back to my car when a large truck approached me and the woman driver rolled down her window and asked "Are you Ms. Faltot?" To tell the truth, I have not been Ms. Faltot since the 1980-1981 school year, but I answered "Yes, I used to be." The woman said "I knew it was you! You look exactly the same! I am so happy to see you because I want you to know how much you helped me in tenth grade. I never would have made it through tenth grade without you." She told me her name (I will call her Angela, because she was my "angel"on Saturday), and I remembered that she had serious family issues in tenth grade. She parked her car and we spoke for several minutes more. She let me know that she is married to another one of my former students, and that they are happy. She has children of her own, and the oldest is a senior in high school. She told me that her mother, who was a big part of her problem, has passed on, but that peace was made before her passing. Angela told me that I have always been her favorite teacher. She recollected that during a particularly bad bout with the stress of home and school issues, she was weeping profusely as she searched the school for me, she said because "I knew you would listen and calm me down." She did not find me that time, but, oh, to be needed so much and to hear that after all these years was so touching. She did find another one of her teachers, whom she said she always had been afraid of, but the teacher was compassionate and caring and helpful. Angela had tears in her eyes as we talked about the problems of yesteryear, and I never knew that I was such an integral part of her life in tenth grade. She said the family had gone through counseling together, and that all is now well. She told me she was so happy to see me because she had always wanted to say thank you for all of the support and love I gave her in tenth grade. By the way, she will be 50 years old this year, but for about 15 minutes on Saturday, she was 16 and I was 28 again.
We hugged and parted ways and said we would hook up on Facebook. But whether we do or do not, I will never forget that feeling that I had when she told me how important my positive influence was to her during that school year. A teacher is so much more than an instructor. Anyone can teach a subject, but it takes a special teacher to be compassionate and caring for those in your charge. Angela and I did not talk about the tenth grade curriculum; we talked about the way she felt, then and now. And we talked about the way I made her feel. Kindness returned kindness on this day. I believe that no matter how busy or stressed you are as a teacher, kindness is a must. And maybe kindness will return kindness for you someday, sometime, today, tomorrow, or in the future, and you will find your Angela and know that you made a difference.
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