Teachers enjoy balancing rocks at TAR13.

Every retreat I prep for seems to have a little theme, a subtle one that is in the details of the retreat.  One year it was Legos, another year it was beginning, middle and end.  Rocks always seem to find themselves to be part of the decor, symbolizing strength and balance.  This summer, with the retreat being by the ocean, starfish were bound to come up a bit.

Starfish are a fun symbol of the ocean, but in education, they take on an even deeper meaning.

Please read the following story:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

We teachers can be like that boy, saving one student at a time.  Taking care of each one we come in contact with and hoping they will do better, grow up, learn more, try something new.  Students are our starfish.  They come to us in droves and patiently we work with them, guide them, teach them and hope that they take those experiences and grow.

I love hearing stories from other teachers who have run into students years later and the student tells them how much they loved their class, or what a difference the teacher made in their life.  I have a couple of those stories myself.

Just last week, I ran into another couple of students I had when I taught middle school.  One in particular I had come across in town a few times over the years.  He had been in my music class, I had coached him in basketball and he even joined my chorus in his last year at the school.  (I think just to bug me!)  Now he is 28 and looked like he had been having a rough time.  After the three of us talked for a bit and got caught up, we talked a little deeper on how things were going.  I could tell that seeing me was a refreshing moment, knowing that after all these years, I still care.  That student is one of my starfish.

One day in the grocery store, I ran into a former student, now grown up who, after some small talk, told me that I was the reason he made it through middle school in a certain teacher’s classroom.  I, according to him, gave him some sort of validation in the hallway when the other teacher was watching and he distinctly remembered her being more respectful to him in class after that. I didn’t recall the incident at all, but it clearly made a difference to him.  Having him tell me that was very gratifying. That student is one of my starfish.

Sometimes we know when we make a difference and other times, we don’t  –  but we are.  If we care, then we are.  Sometimes the most quiet student is the one who is taking in more of what we have to offer than any other.  Sometimes the most obnoxious student is the one who considers you his or her favorite teacher.  We all have a lot of starfish to save.

Don’t ever underestimate the value you bring to students’ lives!

Keep saving those starfish!

~EMP

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