I had this conversation a few times with my Dad. About the way we both felt about teaching, about the impact we thought we made in our students lives, and about what we thought we had achieved overall in our careers. My father spent his whole professional life in the same school, first as a PE teachers, then as a high school director (before going back to teaching again). A few decades later, after he retired, we spoke about how he wished he could have seen more clearly the product of his labour. Like the carpenter who holds in his hands what he has built at the end of the day, or the doctor who cures a patient and sees him walking again. It’s true that for the teacher, the reward is more subtle, and it sometimes takes years (if not at all) to see the fruits, the results of one’s work.
As a PE teacher, my father was guiding his student towards a healthier, more balanced and active life, coaching them and sharing with them his enthusiasm for sport. In school, day after day, he was supporting kids in becoming adults, helping them to acquire skills that they will be able to reuse on their life’s long journey. Seeing the outcome of a teacher’s work is not always easy. Sometimes, a real athlete would come out of the bunch, a student that would go on to make sport part of his life. In those cases, he could see that it finally made more sense.
As a foreign language teacher, it’s easier to observe the impact that my lesson. My students travels to French speaking countries often, go on trips, make friends, interact… Especially in the international community, there is a lot of exchange going on, and it’s easy to see to advantages of mastering more than one language. Looking back at my career, I see a pattern: in all the classes that I taught, at all the levels, and in all the schools that I have been in, I have always tried to give my students the “desire to learn”, the impulse to develop a curiosity for another language. That was my own end of the line.
Coming back from the winter break, two weeks ago, I was slowly getting back into the swing of things when I met a few of my French students in the hall. They told me how they went to France over the holiday, and spoke French with some relatives of their parents. We only exchanged a few words, but knowing that they used the knowledge that I passed on to them in a real life situation suddenly made me feel a whole lot better. Like the carpenter or the doctor, I saw the result of my work. It all made sense.