December 14 , 2016 /


Many of us go about our work without being concerned about the rewards of what we do. We have chosen a profession (or been chosen by it because it called to us) of serving others. What we do is because of who we are and not that who we are is defined by what we do.  What we say and do are reflections of what we believe to be important and worthwhile.

I received a letter last year from a former student who said he was influenced by my “leadership” and while I believe that I was acting on behalf of the mission, vision and values of the school where he was a student, those were also my closely held beliefs about what is right, what is good and how people should treat one another.

This student of 25 years ago said that “the learning environment was electric. We were encouraged… to gain multi-cultural literacy and to follow the school’s motto, ‘Courage for the deed, Grace in the doing’.  The assembly talks that you delivered were inspiring to those of us who were actually listening!  If my memory serves me correctly, you had a picture on your desk taken with the late Martin Luther King, Jr. , which made a significant impression on those of us who knew the story of your Detroit days.

“You … inspired me to teach.  It has been 15 enjoyable years thus far, teaching such subjects as professionalism, ethics, and clinical practice to dental students and residents.  You also taught me to help those less advantaged in life.  I have dedicated a significant portion of my practice to treating children with intellectual, neurodevelopmental, physical and social disabilities.  These kids are often marginalized and over-looked in receiving the primary and specialty healthcare they deserve. “

The former student went on to relate a more personal story that was meaningful and touching and then concluded by saying, “Please accept this short note as a token of thanks for your everlasting impact on my life.”   This kind of letter comes every now and then when you have had such amazing opportunities to be in this kind of environment of teaching and learning.   I was both surprised and humbled to receive the letter and shared it with my son who is an outstanding science teacher of over 25 years. And this is what my son wrote back to me:

“What a lovely letter. It is such an honor to be in a place of creating possibilities for students to recognize more of themselves, empowering their voices to speak up in support of truth seeking. I am amazed so often at the impact of the little things we do that are simply an expression of doing what is right. Nothing special, just the ordinary practice of being kind, of speaking out for justice, of sharing encouragement or offering understanding, celebrating courage or unique accomplishment – these simple ordinary acts can mean so much to someone when they happen to take place at just the right moment in just the right place. What a gift and privilege to be able to stand in that place over many years and keep up the care, keep conducting the Great Experiment in human learning and development. Thanks for sharing that marvelous expression of genuine gratitude and appreciation. It’s not why we do this work, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to get some acknowledgment every now and then that what we have done made a difference to someone.”

My hope is that every teacher and every educator can experience this kind of affirmation to know that what they do every day makes a difference and sometimes you might not know the results for years afterwards. But, know this; it’s all worth every moment you have the chance to interact with your students and colleagues. I had the blessings and benefits of 50 years of service and leadership. May you enjoy similar benefits and blessings that come from your good work regardless whom you serve.

Comments (4)

    1. Thank you, Christine. It is my contention that we are more integrated when we do what we do because of who we are and not that we are because of what we do. It may be a subtle difference but I think it’s a distinction worth noting as so many people seem to take their identity from what they do. And then, at least sometimes, they seem not to be satisfied or even content with what they are doing. It could be that they do not know that they are out of sync or it could be for any number of other reasons including why they chose to do what they are doing. Why do I share this thought? Perhaps to help people look in the mirror and decide if honest person is looking back? One of the first questions people often ask upon meeting someone is, “what do you do?” Can you imagine the conversation being different if the question was, “Who are you?”

  1. Wonderful post and so relevant… I was blessed with two similar notes, and the most amazing thing is that they showed up at the least expected time of my life (I mean years after the facts) and from individuals I never thought I had created such an unexpected and long lasting impact…

    1. We never know when all the seeds we sow,
      with whom, how and when will grow…….
      We plant, nurture and cultivate
      Then, with others, ruminate.

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