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THEDIFFERENCEA TEACHERCANMAKE Throughout my childhood, there were a few teachers who changed the trajectory of my life. That’s a pretty big thing to say, but it’s true. May 7 is National Teacher Day, and because I work with a lot of educators, I want to share a story about how one teacher completely changed the way I think about learning. Growing up, I attended a private Christian school until halfway through the fifth grade. My parents felt the school wasn’t keeping up on the academic side of things. My older sister, who also attended the school, qualified for more advanced math classes. In order to continue, she needed to attend a public school to take classes the private school didn’t offer. So the two of us were enrolled in a new school. The switch was a shocking one. I had done pretty well academically at the private school, but the public school students were further ahead in their curriculum, so I started to lag behind. In fact, through the rest of fifth grade and into sixth grade, I struggled. I ended up getting my first C, when my grades up until this point had been all A’s. I was devastated. Then, in seventh grade, things changed. It all came down to my math teacher, Mr. Miller. He was a remarkably energetic person and took time to connect with his students. He wasn’t there to absentmindedly teach but to help students really understand. Mr. Miller kept a list next to his desk called his “Magnificent Seven.” It was a list of the top performers of the class. While that may sound a little odd by today’s standards, it was his approach to using this list that made all the difference and ultimately changed the way I feel about math. Mr. Miller told us this list was not always going to be the same seven names over and over. He wanted to see everyone make the list at least once, and he was going to actively help each student meet that goal. “I will work with you to get on this list,” he promised. At first, I wasn’t convinced. But Mr. Miller told me there was no reason I couldn’t be good at math. It wasn’t long after he said that and worked with me that I made it onto that list. Every time someone new made the list, he
made a big deal about it and let that student know just how good of a job they were doing. In short, he made us feel excited about learning.
This was one of the first times a teacher encouraged me and was there for me. For the rest of the school year, I worked hard to stay on that list — and stay near the top. At one point, it was between me another kid named Jason for the #1 spot. Not only did my attitude toward math change, but Mr. Miller’s teaching strategy completely changed my trajectory going forward. I never got a C again, and I went on to excel in just about every math class afterward (except for one geometry class, in which I got a B). This goes to show just how much impact a teacher can have. It all came down to Mr. Miller believing in his students and being there to help when we really needed it, even when we wouldn’t admit we were struggling. Every teacher has a chance to make a difference. As clichéd as that may sound, it’s absolutely true. When a teacher puts in the extra effort, it can be life changing for a student. Any educator can change the academic trajectory of their student by simply being there for them, encouraging them, and recognizing their accomplishments, just as Mr. Miller recognized mine.
–Ja y Willi s
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