All they really want is for you to come to their graduation and cheer them on and to know that you played a major role in their success.
A few days ago, I lost a dear friend and colleague. We taught together, played pranks on each other, and supported each other through the hard pieces of parenting and teaching and being human. When our colleague died after a long battle with cancer, we paddled out together to honor her. When I left our middle school to pursue my Masters, he wrote me a sonnet and read it to me in front of the entire staff on the last day of school. When I turned 40, he wrote a song and sang it to me at my big birthday bash. He has supported me in all my professional transitions and my heart has always held such a special place for him. One of the best teammates a teacher could ask for.
And then suddenly he was gone.
The hardest part has been reaching out to our former students to share the news.
As much as he challenged them and made them think hard, they loved him. They loved him because he always gave second chances - and third and fourth chances, too. All he wanted to see was effort - but you better believe there was always room for more effort and bigger tries and brighter futures.
I’m very close and connected to many of our former middle school students - many of whom have graduated college already or are graduating soon.
I’ve been reaching out to them, letting them know what has happened. And I’m crying right now as I write this because the truth is, as educators, we never fully understand how much we impact our students. The true, lasting impact of our profession is not quantifiable with test scores and graduation rates. It's not quantifiable at all really. Because how do you measure love? How do you measure the desire to make someone proud?
I’m sharing all of this with you because I know your students feel the same way about you as they do about my dear friend Larry.
I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know how they feel about you NOW. I don’t want you to finally know it when they all show up to your Celebration of Life and you get to hear it in your Eulogy.
It doesn’t matter how many followers you have on Instagram or how successful your Teachers Pay Teachers account is. It doesn’t matter how many degrees and certifications you have or where you got your credentials from.
What matters is that you show up every day and pour into your students. What matters is that you love them and they can feel it.
What matters is that you teach from your heart.
When I called my former students to tell them about Mr. Welch, they were devastated. I mean devastated. It's been 7 to 8 to even 10 years since they were in his classroom and that is completely irrelevant because you cannot quantify this kind of impact with time. Here’s what I am hearing from them that you get to hear too:
They love you.
They understand why you are hard on them and why you push them to be and do better.
They have a tremendous amount of respect for you.
They always wonder what you think of them.
They just want to know if you are proud of them.
They want you to know that you are always in the back of their minds, hearing your voice, encouraging them to follow your dreams and think bigger than big.
When one of my students, through big sobs, yelled into the phone “He was supposed to be at my graduation!” I understood on a much, much deeper level - like I really got it for the first time - how much we impact our students.
Today, please take a moment to look at your students and tell them how proud you are of them. How much you love them and you believe in them. And then when they look back at you with blank faces or stupid smirks or they’re not even looking at you at all, just know it in your heart that they will never forget you. They will never forget that you loved them.
PS. It is no mistake that we at VIBE had already decided to turn October into an entire month of Educator Appreciation. The Show Your Love event launched on Monday October 5th and each week we are honoring all the key players that help make our schools run. And in the kick off of this event we are now also honoring an exceptional educator, Larry Welch. So, in his honor, we see this as an amazing time to remind all of you that you are exceptional, too. Cheers, Mr. Welch! Thank you for all you have done to impact the lives of youth, your colleagues, and your family and friends.