By Casey Ainsworth – When teaching at the elementary or middle school level, teachers may not always see the fruits of their labor. Often times, it could be years later that you see the success of a former student. There’s a cliché that says if you help one student, that is success. As a teacher, that can be a tough pill to swallow. I don’t know if I could ever be satisfied with only one student being deemed a success out of thousands that I have taught or coached.

We sometimes think success looks the same for every child, which isn’t true. I always tell my students that growing as a student and as a person can be messy, confusing, and just plain uncomfortable, but it is necessary. It’s not going to happen overnight, but as long as you’re moving forward, it will happen.

Over the years, I have seen hundreds of examples of success. I think any teacher can agree that when we witness moments of growth or have a student return to describe their success, those are the moments that mean more than anything.

Students challenging themselves, helping peers, finding their voices, realizing their worth, or just being kids—these are moments that we’ll miss if we don’t pay attention.

Anonymous thank-you notes, spontaneous visits from former students, and simple conversations with graduates are some of the ways that we, as teachers, can see our hard work making a difference.

But I also think it’s so much more than that.

What if success is seeing a student become student government president, who as an eighth-grader, was a great student but didn’t know how to be a vocal leader? What about a softball team who starts cheering for the opposing pitcher when she starts to cry because she is struggling on the mound?

Sometimes, success and growth don’t have to be that noticeable. As teachers and coaches, it’s easy to have tunnel vision because we’re so focused on the task at hand. We may miss what’s going on around us.  I have really tried to lose the blinders lately and take time to notice the little things happening around me.

Teaching eighth grade is full of laughter, tears, frustration, joy, absolute craziness, and a range of other emotions that sometimes I’m not prepared for. But it’s also full of little moments that no one will ever be able to capture or truly describe perfectly.

Students challenging themselves, helping peers, finding their voices, realizing their worth, or just being kids—these are moments that we’ll miss if we don’t pay attention.

So how do I know what I do matters? I just have to keep my eyes open. It’s in front of me every day.


About The Author: Casey Ainsworth is a middle school social studies teacher at Milton Hershey School, a cost-free, private, coeducational school in Hershey, Pennsylvania that offers state-of-the-art facilities, advanced technology and hundreds of extracurricular activities to students in pre-kindergarten through  12th grade from income-eligible families.