Monday, October 6, 2008

Ripple Effect: You Never Know Who You Will Impact

My first real teaching job was in 1984 in Reno, Nevada. I couldn't find a public school that had any openings and I was desperate to teach. I went through the yellow pages and began to look up private academies and Christian schools. I planned on playing piano in clubs on the weekend and do my teaching during the week. I was single and didn't really know anybody except a best friend and his wife that told me I should come down and do music and teach.
I visited several private schools and left resumes and cards. One called and had a position for single room grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. I checked everything out, had an interview and was hired.
I had 7 students that first year and I remember them all - Sarah, Aurora, Lori and her brother; Leslie and her brother, and a boy that came in mid year with "issues". The interesting thing is that when I look back on it now, the kids I had, really ranged in spectrum.
I had 2 talented and gifted students that were not challenged in public school classrooms and the parents hoped to find more motivational and steroid-charged curriculum for them. I had several regular middle-of-the-road students that were cruising along without too much need for special help and then I had a few that were struggling and had learning disorders and emotional issues. They hadn't made it in the public scene and needed a smaller class sizes for more one-on-one attention and help. So this was my FIRST year - a gambit of grades and needs at the same time.
That year we did all kinds of research related project based learning. I developed a literature- based reading program and we used textbooks for science, math, social studies and spelling. My core literacy was my baby and I LOVED it.
There were internal problems in the school and the board had argued, parents were unhappy - not with me or the teaching, but with some board personalities and issues I didn't know about.
At the end of the year, they were going to close the doors.
Through a fluke of sheer luck I ended up in an elementary school with a sixth grade classroom the next fall. And guess who came to be in my class? Three of the fifth graders that had been in my room the previous year. I took that as the ultimate compliment that those parents trusted me with their student's minds two years in a row.
I taught there several years before I decided to move to Hawaii and then ended up in Asia and in an international music school for the next 7 years. I taught in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, then on to Sydney, Australia; Capetown, S. Africa; London, Amsterdam, Budapest. I was still single and had the luxury of being able to do whatever I wanted in life at that point...sigh, those were the days!
Anyway, 24 years after my first classroom in Nevada, I got an email today. To paraphrase it, it went kind of like this... "Hi Mr. Thornburg. I did a search for you today online and found you. I was one of your students in Reno a long time ago. I am a teacher and I credit you as one of the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher. I have 2 wonderful children..."
I am speechless. She was one of the 5th graders that followed me to the sixth grade the next year. She survived two whole years of me and I was a rookie to boot! I still represented something to her in teaching that made her choose it for her life's work. IN-credible!
I want to challenge you. Remember the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? Remember how Jimmy Stewart realized that if he hadn't been around, things would have been a whole lot different and through the ripple effect, he impacted many lives and their offspring's lives as well. Well I kind of felt that way when I read the email today and I want you to realize that this works in your life as well.
I get emails from folks and read comments. I visit and read your blogs, so know something about you. You are wonderful. Most of you are either teachers, parents, users of AT or inventors of AT and software. You are having a HUGE impact on children and adults with disabilities. Do you know how much the ripple effect causes you to literally impact the world? It does and I want you to realize that, and let that encourage you when you feel under-appreciated. As teachers, we have the potential to make a giant impact on our world.

Now, just believe it...

All the best to you!


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

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