This I Believe

Robert - Columbia, North Carolina
Entered on October 13, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the power of one.

In my profession, I’m known as a teacher of special education.

I’d like to think of myself as more of a teacher who makes education special.

I believe in the power a teacher has to transform lives and help dreams come true. But it wasn’t until recently that I understood what that really meant.

My best friend, a high school English teacher, is one such example. Sometimes when we’re out together, she’ll run into one of her former students. More often than not, that person, like most of her students, walked out of her classroom and continued on the path to a successful career.

As I listen to her describe this or that student, I can’t help but notice that Christmas morning sparkle in her eyes – a look that comes from one who has been given a cherished gift.

Though I never tire of seeing her with that tender expression, I must selfishly admit that I’ve always been a bit envious, since I’ve never been able to share a similar experience with her. That is, until now.

When Kevin arrived at my classroom door one September morning, I had just finished teaching math to a group of eight young men, all of whom had failed their grade the previous year. For over a decade, students have been arriving at my door with an

attitude – an attitude that comes from years of academic failure that has all but extinguished their desire to learn anything.

W.B. Yeats said that “Education is not about the filling of a pail, but rather the igniting of a fire.” No matter how diligently I searched with many of these kids, I couldn’t seem to kindle so much as a spark.

Kevin, on the other hand, was a five alarm blaze! He was the most gifted student I had ever known, although his academic record certainly didn’t reflect scholastic achievement. His ability to build and replicate models of airplanes, boats, and buildings was surpassed only by the sheer genius he displayed when designing his own creations. He built a model bridge that placed first in a regional competition and constructed a glider out of a shoebox that won him recognition from NASA.

Now this young man, the first in his family to receive a high school diploma, was standing before me. What he said to me that morning, in his own inimitable way, was also a first for me.

He told me that he was working for a boat building company, and that he wouldn’t have gotten the job if not for the skills he learned in my class. He extended his hand, thanked me, and continued on his way to work.

Later that evening, I visited my friend to tell her about my experience. Instead of that Christmas morning sparkle, she had tears running down her cheeks.

Finally, I began to understand something about the feeling that comes from the power of one.

Thank you Kevin.