I remember the moment I chose teaching as a career. I was two years into college and had to declare a major. Among the choices, teaching offered the greatest potential for positively impacting others. That was the clincher.
I'd love to be able to think pure altruism was what has sustained my desire to teach these last fifteen years, but that would mean I would've expected nothing in return for my time and energy, and that was just not the case. I'm hardly as selfless as that. Sure, I've depended on the paycheck, but ultimately, I've expected at least the sense that my time as a teacher meant something to others. I didn't need to see it, I just needed to feel it. I didn't even need to know that others saw it. I just wanted to be sure for myself.
Fortunately, I have been, and here's why:
1. The odds were pretty damn good! I've taught close to 100 students each year, which meant close to 1500 students passed through my classroom. Given there are 180 days in the school year, that would mean I had 180 days with each student where there was a very good chance of having impacted them in a positive way (since that was what motivated me).
2. I've had some great teachers whom I quietly admired and even revered. They impacted me in ways they could have never known (well, okay-- some do know now thanks to the modern-day magic of Facebook, where everyone you've ever known somehow finds you). If even one of my ~1500 students took a piece of me along on their life's journey, in spirit, it'd be pretty cool. I've been fortunate enough to be told this was the case by former students.
3. Lastly, there have been those moments where I sensed it; a personal connection that was made, a mutual understanding, a shared experience, time, patience, and honesty acknowledged. Even if they didn't get it, I did. Maybe some day, they would, too, the way I could only do in retrospect when thinking about my own teachers and how they quietly left their imprint on my teacher-being.
Interestingly enough (to me, anyway), I care less about all of that. What sustains me as a teacher has shifted quite a bit. Where before it was about using my "superpowers" to inspire and to help students become self-aware (that being the "positive impact"), now I'm more inclined to want my experiences and my knowledge to be of value. If there's an impact to be made, it's on their learning, and I feel much more equipped to do that given the depth of knowledge I've acquired. It's a quieter impact, but one that's more likely to endure and have a direct & positive impact on their self-concept.
Also, there's no denying that all this time, I've been impacted by my students on so many levels; as a parent, a learner, a teacher, and as a fellow human being. For that reason, I have a sense that in a few years, even legacy will cease to be a factor in what fuels me. If it's anything like parenthood, what will mean the most will be the sum total of those quieter moments where we all ran outside under the first snowfall to catch snowflakes on our tongues (high schoolers, these are), or all the times we found ourselves in mutual awe of things serendipitously stumbled upon, or that made us appreciate the mysteries of our own human nature.
I feel the start of that shift, and I embrace it.