Defining Success

How many lives will you touch over the lifetime of your teaching career? After 30 years in education, even if you teach in a self-contained, single grade classroom with an average enrollment of 20 students, you literally will have come into contact with 600 students. The actual numbers will be much larger for many of you. Think about how staggering that is. You literally have the power to shape hundreds if not thousands of lives.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the students whose lives I’ve had the opportunity to touch, either as a teacher (general or special) or as a school counselor. While I certainly don’t know the whereabouts of all of them, I know about some of them. Many are married and of course some are divorced. Several are teachers and at least one is a college professor at a Division I School. Some returned to their family farm, while others became diesel mechanics, or joined the ranks of law enforcement. I know of one free-lance writer and have been proud to see several of my former special education students working in sheltered employment and living semi-independently in group homes. Unfortunately, I also read about some who have run afoul of the law and in fact, at least one former student was deported to his home country after repeatedly breaking the law. Some joined the military and at least one is a newly elected school board member. I know of one person providing custodial services and another who is driving an 18 wheeler. And I’m sad to report that several students who walked through the doors of my classroom are already deceased.

I cared about every one of them. I wanted all of them to find success and live full, satisfying lives. So why then, aren’t all of my former students famous, or wealthy, or even 4-year degree graduates? Perhaps, it is because they don’t to be famous, or wealthy or sport a college degree. Oh sure, you may ask, “Who doesn’t want to be wealthy?” and the answer is simple–anybody who isn’t wealthy.

The reality is, we all make choices which leads to consequences and ultimately the results we realize. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the idea that success is in the eye of the beholder. It isn’t about what I want for my students. It’s not about what I arbitrarily define as success. Rather, it’s about what they want for themselves.

If their dream was to get married, have steady employment, pay their bills on time and enjoy a hobby of stock car racing on the weekend in the small town in which they grew up, a high school graduate who secures a job on the city maintenance crew is just as successful as the student who completes a 4 year degree to secure the employment they desire.

As educators, we can certainly broaden the spectrum of possibilities in their minds. We have a responsibility to help them make the connection between the decisions they make and the results they realize, but at the end of the day each student gets to decide what they want from life.

About Deb

I am a lifelong educator with experience in special education, counseling and staff development. Special interests outside of my chosen career field include entrepreneurship, investing and financial literacy.
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