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Making a Difference Is What It's All About

Voice of ExperienceEducator Max Fischer reflects on a turning point in his career. He didn't realize what teaching was all about until his eighth year in the profession. No wonder so many young teachers leave before they have five years under their belts!

Max W. Fischer

Annually, for the past several years, USA Weekend magazine has promoted local volunteerism, encouraging citizens young and old to perform service projects that positively impact their communities. I am as impressed by the idea as I am by the title: Make a Difference Day. I can't help but think how much that phrase is inextricably linked to teaching. To me, teaching is all about making a difference. I don't think I fully appreciated that early in my career, however.

More Voices of Experience!

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays by Max Fischer?

* Alleviating Appraisal Anxiety: Lessons Learned From 29 Years of Evaluations
* Of "No Child Left Behind" and Blueberries
* How to Keep the Fire Burning (Or Lessons Learned from Edith, the Kids, and "the Fear")
* Finding "New Cheese" Requires Adjustment To Change
* Handling Parent Complaints -- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
* Written Communication: An Educator's Calling Card
* Middle Schools Are Getting a Bum Rap
* Choice -- The Ultimate Tool for Engaging and Empowering Students
* The Power of Written Praise
* The Schoolhouse Rocks: Using Music to Engage Learning
* "No Child Left Behind" Places Premium on Reading Instruction in Content Areas
* In Search of National Board Certification: One Teacher's Perspective
After seven years of teaching, with the ink still wet on my masters degree, I was ready to make a move. I was bent on taking my latest sheepskin and marketing myself to the highest-paying districts in my state. Still single, I was a free agent in every sense of the word. Although the job I landed didn't quite fulfill all my financial expectations, I was convinced that this, my third district in less than eight years, would satisfy my wanderlust.

On the heels of landing that position - and still focused on mercenary goals -- I was courted by the district manager of a national insurance agency who tried to sell me on the monetary benefits of a complete career change. Since money was a definite motivator at that time, I politely listened to him. In the end, however, I bowed to my heart, and to the memories of teachers who, by their examples, had inspired me to enter the teaching profession.

It was during that year, my first year in my third district, that I experienced my epiphany. Toward the end of the school year, a sixth grader I had taught during my second year teaching invited me to his high school graduation. Five years and three districts removed from that student, the invitation got me thinking about the impact I had had on his young life -- and about the significance I might have in the lives of other students.

That invitation -- eight years into my career -- was the beginning of my understanding of the true importance of my calling.


All through my college years and my early years of teaching, I had carried with me memories of a handful of special teachers who had inspirited my career choice. Yet I myself had never really sunk any roots. I hadn't experienced the "end product" of my endeavors. Teaching exclusively in the intermediate grades in several districts, I had been a worker in the middle of an assembly line, a worker who never got the satisfaction of seeing the finished product.

After reflecting on this, I am convinced that a major reason that up to 50 percent of young teachers leave the profession by their fifth year is because they haven't yet made that discovery; they haven't yet experienced the adrenaline-coursing result of dedicated work, work sometimes long past. For me, that graduation invitation, serves as a prime example of delayed gratification.

Through e-mails from students long removed from my consciousness and in impromptu reunions at local stores, I frequently encounter former students who share fond recollections and recall optimistic aspirations. The last two decades of my career have been nourished by those events. And mine are not isolated examples; anyone who has taught for any significant length of time has similar stories to share.

Just as certain mentors served as beacons for my future occupation, I have spent the majority of my career discovering that my impact goes far beyond the classroom door. And, although I carry a litany of major financial obligations today that didn't burden me early in my career, money has long since been supplanted as the primary motivator in my job.


Schultz's Philosophy
Other teachers who have reveled in epiphanies like the one I experienced many years ago will relate easily to my reminiscences. For those too new to the profession to have experienced our vocation's ultimate high, this unique "quiz" might offer a simple, straightforward, and poignant example of the significance you play in the lives of your students.

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient and medieval history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Max Fischer
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