Changing our students, and being changed by them

You probably won’t find it difficult to accept that you have influenced your students or changed them in one way or another, even if in very small ways. But have you ever wondered whether your students may have also brought about changes in you?

In ‘Respite for Teachers: Reflection and Renewal in the Teaching Life’, Christine Casanave and Miguel Sosa believe that while we change our students, our students also change us. They explain:

‘As teachers, we may wonder if we have had any influence at all on our students. Over the period of one or two semesters, it is difficult to see change. We have to trust that changes may become clear to former students later. When we do see positive change, it is like being given a dose of anti-burnout remedy. And if we take a few seconds to savour such moments, we can easily say, ‘Ah! This is why I am a teacher! I can continue another day, another year.’

But what about the possibility that we may have been changed by the relationship. Christine and Miguel continue: ‘And if we take a moment to think about it, we may wonder, too, how we have been changed by such relationships. This is not a question that teachers often ask, because we are so concerned with how to help others change.’

Each year around this time, as the busy academic year gradually slows down, I receive more and more invites from former students for reunion gatherings. It is always uplifting to see how they have developed as teachers, and grown as human beings. Of course, I won’t be so naive as to claim credit for all their positive changes; yet I still can’t help wondering: Did I do something or make a remark some years ago, that has, even in a very very small way, helped to forge the teachers who are now sitting on the other side of the table in this cafe, sharing their joys and frustrations from their teaching life with me?

And during these moments, another question that has always been lying in the back of my mind will pop out and into my consciousness: How have my relationships with my former students shaped the kind of person that I am today?

In other words, if I hadn’t been a teacher in all these years, what would I be like today?


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