Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).
One thing I love about teaching is that we actually get the see the fruits of our labor, now and then. We may not see every one of our students thrive and grow, but from time to time we nurture someone and the end result is miraculous.
My biggest accomplishment was discovered after I left my first teaching position in Stapleton, Nebraska (population 299). I left under a cloud of shadow and shame. Me and my new family just were not ready for life in the sandhills. It was different out there. People told me so before we moved, but you don’t know until you live there. I am not dogging on the lifestyle, but it is different. Although my wife (at the time) and I both grew up in small towns, we were only a short trip away from Omaha or Lincoln. We had never known true rural life.
In this town, at age 23, I embarked on my first teaching adventure. I had six preps, the one-act play and the speech team. I had a little baby at home, and my wife worked nights so that we wouldn’t have to find daycare. I was in over my head, but I had no idea. Because when you are young, you are either extremely resilient, or just too stupid to know better.
I taught my students how to write the best way that I knew how, which I learned from my mentor, Ann Holmes, at Elkhorn High School as a student teacher. They taught the ever-familiar and much disdained 5-paragraph essay. At the time, I thought it was a pretty easy structure to teach to freshmen, and it was a fairly effective way to teach beginning writers how to add structure to their writing.
I had some stellar students. That’s the thing about teaching. No matter where I’ve taught, I’ve always had basically the same percentage of stand-out students. One of them was named Traci. Traci’s older brother was on my speech team, and I encouraged Traci to be on it as well. She tried, but didn’t really enjoy it. In fact, I think she came to dislike me greatly throughout our two years together. That was the vibe that I got.
So after I left that town, I received a letter in the mail from Stapleton. It was from Traci. It was a short thank-you note to let me know that my teaching had helped her to write an essay. This essay won a contest and earned her $250 or some other grand prize. And the reason that the letter was so special to me was not because she won a contest, but it was because here was a student who I thought loathed me and learned nothing from me going out of her way to say “thank you.”
I kept that card on my bulletin board for a long time as a reminder that every once in awhile we do reach these kids in meaningful ways. Now that card sits in my memory banks and I hope that before I retire, I’ll have another moment like that.