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June 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 9

On Making a Difference

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Jeffrey Benson

There are so many ways it's felt wonderful to make a difference in kids' lives. The first one is that they show up the next day. They have courage, after how hard school has been for them, to come to the schoolhouse door the next day and step over the threshold. Not only that, they've stepped over the threshold into my classroom; they've decided my classroom is a better place to be than the hall. Wow, love that!
I can see it when my students tell me they actually did their homework. Or when they raise their hands and want to shout out an answer to a question I've asked. Or when another teacher down the hall tells me, "Hey, your student mentioned something interesting that's going on in your class." Or when I'm talking to their parents and their parents tell me, "My child told me about something they were doing in class. My kids never talked about school before." Or when my students say they want to go to college.
Or when I meet a student in the street years after I've taught them, and they remember something that happened in class. There's a great line about that from Rickie Lee Jones—"You never know when you're making a memory." When they tell you those things, when they offer you those little nuggets, you think, Oh yes, I vaguely remember telling that to you five years ago. The thing is, you know they're carrying something you gave them. It's incredibly fulfilling. It's addictive.
<ATTRIB> Jeffrey Benson is founder of Leaders and Learners Consulting. He is the author of Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most (ASCD, 2014). </ATTRIB>
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Nancy Frey

There are lots of times for every teacher when you know you've made a difference in the life of a child. I don't mean in a big life-changing kind of a way, but rather when you see that spark of recognition, that understanding that comes over their face, when you recognize that they got it, and you have that secret pride of being able to say, "I taught you that!" It's an amazing experience. I think it's those little moments in the classroom that end up accumulating over time and making a difference on a larger scale.
One of those memorable times when I knew I made a difference was in my first year of teaching. I was teaching 1st grade, and I had a student—his name was Michael—who struggled with reading. I felt pretty ill-equipped to help him. I felt out of my depth as a new teacher working with a student who was struggling to read.
But Michael stayed with me. Michael was persistent. He was confident in me when I wasn't confident in my own skills. The day he came to me and read aloud a page from a book we'd been working on, then looked up at me with his huge eyes—to this day I can burst into tears just thinking about it because I recognized that as much as anything, it was Michael's belief that I could teach him how to read that made a difference. I may have made a difference for Michael, but Michael also made a difference for me.
<ATTRIB> Nancy Frey is a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University. Her latest book, coauthored with Doug Fisher and Alex Gonzalez, is Teaching with Tablets: How Do I Integrate Tablets with Effective Instruction? (ASCD, 2013). </ATTRIB>
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Myron Dueck

I remember a time when it felt as though I'd really made a difference for a student. This student, whom I'll call Megan, took me up on my retesting offer shortly after I broke my own rule and learned to give retests. She came by on a Friday around 3:00, poked her head in the door, and asked whether she could take the retest then. Sure, I said.
I randomly chose a question off the test about the increasingly important role of women in the 1920s and '30s and said, "Megan, what can you tell me about that? Let's have a conversation." So she told me about the changing role of women. When she got to the end, I said, "That was just incredible! You nailed that question! You must have put a lot of effort into that." She said that she had.
Then as she got up and headed toward the door, she turned to me and said, "You know, Mr. Dueck, this is the only course I'm trying in." I asked her why.
"I like this retesting system," she said. "I'm able to see what I know and what I don't know. I come in on a day like today, I tell you what I've learned, and it makes me feel smart."
She took a few more steps, then turned to me and added, "And I haven't felt smart in the past." Then she walked out the door, and her footsteps disappeared into the weekend.
That filled my sails on that Friday afternoon. It's feedback like that along this journey that has made such a difference for me.
<ATTRIB> Myron Dueck is vice principal at Penticton Secondary School, School District 67, in British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of Grading Smarter Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn (ASCD, 2014). </ATTRIB>
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