Teachers Affect Eternity

"A teacher affects eternity. She can never know where her influence stops." ~ Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

I love quotations. I have them all over my home and this morning for some reason Adams quote about a teacher's impact on eternity caught my eye. It caused me to think of a question posed to me by a teacher recently. She asked how a teacher could make a difference with a student whose parents did not return calls or come to meetings. I had no solution to offer other than, keep reaching out and being as positive as possible with the student.The quote, and the teacher's question prodded the following thoughts:

Michael was an only child. His parents had met at their place of employment. His Mom had taken the job to support her mother and younger sister after her father died. His Dad had taken the job because he had a physical disability that limited his options. For reasons unknown to anyone but them they ended up together. Things were good at the outset. They'd been married a few years before Michael was born. By the time he was school age things weren't as calm at home. His parents fought a lot especially if they'd been drinking.  Most of the turmoil wasn't visible to the outside world which meant folks at school or church didn't know there were significant problems at home. When he was 16 he came home after school one day and found his mother dead. Her alcoholism had done her in but the death certificate would state pneumonia was the cause. Michael made sense of his world as best he could but he had to deal with his perceptions vs. reality. Larger than that, he had to navigate others' perceptions of his reality. He had connections with different adults and teachers that helped him more than most of those adults realized.

Michael's story is every at risk child's story that we view from an observer's perspective. Each situation is different but there is always a child at the eye of the storm. There are always multiple adults involved and communication between the adults is the key to supporting each Michael. In Wisconsin over the last few years the Department of Health and Human Services has done some major restructuring of the way it provides services. One of the results is that the majority of counties have collaborative systems of care in place. Rather than only addressing a child at risk there is a focus on providing support for the child's family. Agencies work together and for children in the k-12 age group the school can be involved too. There is the Family Support Program for families that have a child with a significant disability and Wisconsin's Collaborative Systems of Care that has a range of services to provide wrap around services to families with multiple needs in the least restrictive setting. These type of initiatives facilitate inter-agency agreements that allow for more flexible solutions for families and communities. Michael, who I wrote
Dad in his high school football
uniform, circa 1948
about in the previous paragraph is not a fictitious compilation. It is the pieces I know of my Dad's childhood and adolescence. He never talked about the tough stuff until I was a teenager and then he didn't say much. I grew up hearing about the good things that happened during his growing up years so I heard the stories about different teachers and others who had a positive impact on him. He grew up, served in the military, went to college, raised a family with his wife of 35 years, worked as an accountant and eventually owned his own business. He died from esophageal cancer at the age of 58. His legacy of four children, twelve grandchildren and two great grandchildren are still very active in the world. Their careers span business, education, industry, health and hospitality. So I have personal knowledge of how teachers as well as other adults who take time to interact in positive ways with youth really do affect eternity. Next time you feel discouraged about the current state of things remember there are lots of simple actions that you likely do each day such as a smile or a kind word that are sending out positive ripples into eternity. Who you are and how you are does make a difference.

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