Steve Haberlin is a gifted students teacher at Rampello Partnership K-8 in Tampa, Florida and a contributing writer for the Innovative Teaching group at Education World.com. Steve has been teaching eight years and has taught at both the elementary and middle school level. One of his more famed programs is “Classroom Apprentice,” as well as an intriguing after-school program.
The letter began with the following sentence:
“You have no idea how much you have influenced my son’s life during this short school year.”
Wow. I was blown away.
I had just been handed this two-page letter from one of my students, who we will call “Joe” for the purpose of this essay. Sitting at my desk, before classes began, I read the letter to myself a few more times. I could not believe I had that kind of effect, especially on this student.
To understand the power of this letter, I need to jump back to the start of the school year.
Joe was new to the gifted academy at the school where I work. He came from a neighborhood school, where he had a reputation for being bored, getting in trouble. His mother said he was pushed aside by his teachers, written off. He pulled A’s in class but wasn’t learning that much. Mom worried that Joe would not be engaged in my classroom and that he would repeat his past history. However, she also believed that my style of teaching — keeping the students moving, engaged, challenged — might be exactly what restless Joe needed.
I warned Mom that Joe would have to work harder to keep his A’s; that he would find this class, and the gifted curriculum, more challenging. She agreed to give it a try.
Joe paid in attention in class for the most part but struggled to keep up with his peers. His mom spent hours each night working with him on homework and studying for tests. Nevertheless, Joe earned C’s, and sometimes lower grades throughout the year. Honestly, I wondered if Joe was placed in the proper classroom — though I didn’t doubt he was being challenged.
Not much changed throughout the year. Joe and I had a decent rapport. Sometimes, he struggled to pay attention, but I could tell he respected me and wanted to be successful in class. Overall, I did my best with Joe but doubted whether I had really impacted him as a teacher.
The letter proved me wrong. Mom wrote passionately about how Joe had developed a better work ethic and bragged to his friends about the high demands of my class. He began studying more and raising his own standards. He began talking about saving money for college — something his mom said he never did before. She noticed he was a deeper, more compassionate thinker, able to see different viewpoints.
Stapled to the back of the letter was an essay that Joe had written as part of an entrance requirement for a prestigious charter middle school. In the essay, Joe described a day in the life in my classroom, writing how he loved the way I made different subjects come alive. He wrote how I taught him baseball at recess, and how he took part in my afterschool breakdancing program.
The letter from Joe’s mom changed my whole view of the profession. I no longer wondered whether I could influence young minds and make a difference. I now know that if I work hard and give my best to the students sitting before me each day, I will make their life better in some way.
That is why I teach.