This I Believe

Kristina - Bennington, Vermont
Entered on June 11, 2007

“Making a Difference is Recognition Enough”

Some of my favorite memories are of standing by the side of a summer parade route waiting for my father to appear with the fire department. Because he was the chief, we always could spot his approach from the front of the company. Even on the hottest day, he looked cool in his black parade shoes that shone in the summer sun. When he spotted us, he would always break into his most boyish grin.

During my childhood, I heard stories of families whose lives my dad, a telephone repair man by trade, had touched in his years as chief. Growing up with Chief Masten for a dad, I grew to believe in the ability of one individual to make a difference. Now that I’m older, I realize just how much his selfless commitment influenced my decision to become a teacher.

From time to time in my career, I’ve experienced pangs of jealously as friends who have more lucrative professions buy large homes and expensive cars, and set off on fabulous travel adventures. But lately, I’ve come to believe that the profession I’ve chosen is an adventure. Every year brings new challenges as different faces take their places in my literature classroom.

Recently, a couple of my former students have stood outside my daughter’s elementary school with me waiting, parent beside parent, for our children to be dismissed. Being part of the community I teach in allows both my former and current students to see me not just as Ms. Hansen, the teacher, but Kris Hansen, the mommy, the wife, the daughter, and friend.

I also discovered that sometimes I touch kids without even knowing.. One year a colleague told me how a student felt so accepted in my classroom because I had made a point to include gay and lesbian people in my everyday examples that connect literature to life. This student wasn’t open about his homosexuality, yet he felt completely accepted in my room. Another young woman wrote me a letter after her college graduation to tell me that I had been her inspiration for becoming a teacher. Just today, a student whom I really didn’t think I had made much of a connection with came by my room before he graduated to say goodbye—and thanks. It’s these moments that sneak up on me that reaffirm my career path.

But when I’m feeling really overwhelmed with being a teacher in the age of No Child Left Behind, I think about how those summer parades were the only recognition my father received for his volunteer work. And yet, for 25 years, he continued to not only fight fires, but to mentor young men and women. In doing so, he set a fine example for his children. And now, when I see my father’s same grin in the faces of my son and daughter each time they accomplish something, I know that as an individual, I make a difference in the lives of my kids—both my own children and my students—every day. And at the end of the day, I believe that making a difference is worth more to me than a big house, an expensive car, or a fancy vacation.