Public school teachers today are increasingly depicted as caring more about themselves than about their students. It’s hard to argue against this perception without seeming defensive. But perhaps the story of a teacher who is dying from brain cancer can help dispel the characterization.
A teacher of English in Miami named David Menasche is making a cross-country journey to ask his former students one simple question: Did he make a difference in their lives (“Dying teacher travels across the US to see if he made a difference,” MSN, Dec. 24)? He wants to know before he dies if his time on earth was well spent.
It’s a question, of course, that is not limited to teachers. People from all walks of life at one time or another probably ask themselves the same thing. But Menasche is going one step further by actually asking his students face-to-face. I don’t know what they will say, but I respect him for having the courage to do so. His decision also is a reminder that teachers care greatly about their impact on their charges. Let’s be frank: You don’t go into teaching to become rich, famous or powerful. You choose teaching because you believe in the value of helping the young become the best they can possibly be.
I’m sure that view sounds corny in a country where wealth is the only barometer of a person’s value. But in the 28 years I taught, I never knew a teacher who didn’t cherish cards and notes received from students. If money were their No. 1 concern, these expressions of appreciation would be insignificant. I still have similar letters from my former students in a special album. I cherish them.
So the next time there’s a news article or commentary about selfish teachers, I hope readers will think about Menasche. He leaves the world with the knowledge that he left an indelible imprint behind. How many others can say that?
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.