I was recently asked during a television interview "who is my hero?" I scratched my head for a few seconds. Because I don't practice celebrity-worship, that list was moot. While there are plenty of historical figures for this history teacher to emulate, I prefer my morals and guiding principles to live in the present.
That's when I realized the students I've taught - my students - are my heroes. For example:
- One student who appeared in my classroom and could've worn a cape is the only 100% American Indian student I've ever taught. Dylan lost his parents at a young age, and his grandparents raised him. When we met in my 9th grade class, he feigned an interest in joining me in my 5 a.m. workouts. Today he is both a champion weightlifter today and an accountant.
- Gina was the type of student teachers dream to teach. She was so keen on citizenship, she never made a mistake on assessment; indeed, her answers in class were always spot on. That was until she helped a friend with answers on our very last test, and I caught her cheating - my first. She accepted her consequences with grace, and today she owns her own successful company.
- Another student who helps me reach for the sky is Shane. When I met him for my 8th grade student-teaching assignment, I learned that his disability - Spinal Muscular Atrophy - gave him strength, poise, and a mission. Today he's a motivational speaker and author of his hilarious, acerbic, and thought-provoking book Laughing At My Nightmare.
- Lindsey taught me how to best teach others the power of composition. She won a National Scholastic Gold Key medal with me in 2010; Though she hasn't pursued a literary career, it's landed her some amazing internships in college and she hasn't ruled out writing on the side. However, I've had 2 other students win a National Scholastic Gold Key, so her impact lives on in my classroom.
- Michael had my class 1st period in 8th grade, and he asked to go to the nurse because he had a pounding headache. Later that day we realized the migraine was in fact a tumor, and he fought through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy to battle back for the last day of school, which was his goal.
- Rayann emailed me to let me know how I impacted her as a teacher. However, as she entered student-teaching in a state that "teaches to the test," she sought advice on how to best provide a proper education for the students in her class. She's leading a paradigm shift at her school even though she's not a full-time employee.
- Another student had a brain injury that wiped his memory clean. Eric jumped and fell on the soccer field, only to have to start his memories from scratch. That included learning who was in his family. He required special assistance and focus in class, but he spotlighted the power of determination through the distinct complexities and plasticity of the mind. I never cried harder in my life than on the last day of class when he thanked me for a great year.
- Sushma is able to walk onto a performance stage and simply dominate it. She did that in 8th grade, and she'll continue to do this until those feet walk the stage on Broadway. And, when she does so, she'll continue to be the most humble and smiling person to make that epic journey.
- Keaton was a self-professed "weirdo" who finally found himself the year that I taught him. Though I simply handed him the flashlight, he continues to send me a thank you message annually. He started a programming club at our high school, and he's pursuing a computer degree "to do nothing short than change the world for the better."
- Just this past year, Annabel was on a mission. She wanted to "kill cancer," especially the type that she saw gravely impacting a family friend. She was constantly in the community, knocking on doors and holding fundraisers to promote large local change. Six weeks later, she raised $54,000 in research money for the leukemia / lymphoma foundation, and they named her student of the year.
In just 11 years at the head of the classroom, I've met a variety of amazing individuals who have amounted accomplishments beyond my personal possibilities. Yet, watching them succeed is my well. I can go to it at any time and draw professional strength and vigor from what they've done.
The saddest part? These are only 10 examples that I have off the top of my head, and only known accomplishments. Of the approximately 1,500 students who've walked through my classroom corridor, I imagine there are countless more. They are nothing short of the definition of heroic.
That makes my students my heroes.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.