High school graduation was last weekend. Every year I reflect not only upon the past school year, but the previous three as well. Some of these kids change so much going from freshmen to seniors.
Teaching these young people can be challenging, but it also has to be one of the most rewarding jobs around. I look back and know I’ve made an impact on many of them. Too often we teachers beat ourselves up on the ones that got away, just like fishermen do. We shouldn’t.
I know every year I gave it my best shot. There are many reasons success is not always consistent. Different students respond to different stimuli. Sometimes classroom chemistry influences success. Certain student combinations can have a positive or negative affect on the rest. Kids have changed over the past 20 years, but hard work and attention to detail usually yields good results.
Every year I change a few things. Most teachers do, but general experience in the trenches tells you what works. I know that’s why I’m still teaching. Watching teenagers turn into young adults never gets old.
We take a lot of criticism in the public schools. I’d be willing to cede some may be warranted. However, we learn to get by with what we’ve got. Public schools have an obligation to conserve funds, educate anyone who comes through our doors and motivate students as best we can. We don’t have the resources they have in the Raleigh area. It’s my job to make my kids understand they can compete with those students from the Triangle and other wealthy districts.
This has been a school year for many of our students to remember. I know at Northeastern where I teach we’ve had successful sports teams and a Morehead scholar. We haven’t had one of them since 2003. I’m proud of Maggie.
I’m also proud of our football and basketball teams that were so successful. Our track team showed how it takes more than four fast guys to win relay State Championships. They won several this year. Runners must pass that baton and that’s often where relays are won or lost. Teamwork is an important soft skill successful people need.
We often overlook soft skills, but that’s what business leaders tell me they’re seeking. It’s not always that valedictorian that becomes the most successful in the long run. Communication and general leadership skills can be as helpful toward long-term success as that impressive SAT score.
One of the most gratifying parts of my job comes when former students return to visit. They seem to appear when I’m struggling to maintain my sanity, and just seeing them and hearing their stories instantly recharges me. I can’t express the gratitude I feel when alumni tell me that my class made a difference in their life.
If one teaches long enough, second generations eventually appear. I’m beginning to experience it. It’s cool because I already know mom or dad, giving me an edge for motivation.
This time of year always gives me a reason to be positive. Watching those young adults walk across the stage, handing them a rose and shaking their hands are awesome. I’m blessed.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.