Teaching can be tedious, exhausting, and sometimes feel like glorified babysitting, which is why many young teachers burnout after only a few years in their chosen career. It doesn’t always look like “Freedom Writers”, but everyone once in a while it does, and teachers have those moments that reaffirm this is where they are meant to be.
People on Quora were asked: “What makes a teacher proud?” These are some of the best answers.
I had a student at West Point who was a recruited basketball player. He would hand in three sentences for a four page writing assignment. We had a couple of long talks about his writing–as a HS student, he got Bs as long as he was the number one scorer in his part of the state–so he had no idea how to write at all.
In desperation, I ordered (cadets are in the Army, as was I then) him to sit at his computer and not get up until he had filled one page with words. He had no idea how to start, so I suggested he write “Dear Mom, you wouldn’t believe what a jerk my English teacher is. He has just ordered me to sit here and write anything until I fill a page.” and then see what happened.
The next day, he came to see me with his sheet of paper–“Sir, I filled a whole page! I didn’t know I could do that.” We worked together for the rest of the semester, and he became a competent writer–never great, but competent. He went on to graduate and became a fairly successful Army officer. I have other moments, but this is the one I recall the most.
My proudest moment came three years ago when a former 6th grade student walked into my classroom late one afternoon. She grinned at me and asked if I remembered her, which of course I did because of the telltale grin and her long ginger hair.
She was about to graduate high school and said shed been accepted to Harvard for the fall! I was elated for her and asked her what she wanted to study. She said she wasnt sure but that her time in my sixth grade class had instilled in her such a love of learning and a value for strong education that she absolutely soared in high school, graduating as a co-valedictorian and winning a scholarship to Harvard.
It was the kind of thing you read about when youre in teacher college. But you dont know how wonderful it will feel until it actually happens.
I have been a substitute teacher for the same school district for the past 8 years. Four years ago, I had taken over for a 5th grade teacher with cancer, from Nov to the last day of school. The teacher ended up passing away that April….so sad.
Well, when I went up to the middle school while these kids were in 7th grade, a student from that 5th grade class came up to me.
Student,”Hey Mrs. B! I just wanted to let you know that you letting us do free writing in the beginning of each day has really made me love creative writing. I’m going to write a book someday!”
“Awe, I’m so glad you enjoyed that time. Make sure you dedicate your first book to me!” (or something like that)
As just a substitute, this was pretty amazing for me. It made me feel good that I was someone’s inspiration without actually having my own classroom.
I worked as a tutor while I studied at U of Iowa. One of my students was having a horrible time with math and I discovered that her fundamental understanding of math was non-existent. So, I helped her essentially go over high school math and then algebra etc. When she was accepted into nursing program (her lifelong dream), she came to see me, gave me a big hug and said “My parents helped me craft my dream, you made it come true.” As a 20-year old, I was blown over that someone would compare me with their parents… I strutted like a proud peacock for at least a whole week.
I work as a asst. professor in a private university in Chennai. It’s a very posh university, with kids from all walks of life. The majority of the students are from the creamy layer. So when I ask a class of 40 students, “How many are interested in photography?”, I counted 6 hands.
I got an opportunity to teaching photography to students in a rural, region of Tamilnadu, India. A class of 60 people, who have never touched a camera before. I asked them the same question, “How many were interested in photography?” I counted 60 hands. I mean 60.
We were discussing photography for a few hours and then, it was time for lunch break and the students refused to go to lunch saying that, they have this opportunity, for only a single day and they don’t want to miss any part of it. I was awestruck.
What made me happy was, in the beginning of the class I had taught them a few different ways to wrap the camera around the arm. At the end of the class when they were taking photos of certificate distribution, I saw something similar to this.
A student who has never touched a DSLR camera before, wrapping the camera around his hand, while taking a photo. That is when I knew I had made a change.
So the proudest moment is not when you get your PhD, not when you get wished by numerous students, not when you present your first international paper, it is when you know, you have impacted the life of a child/student in a positive manner, that is my proudest moment, I’ll cherish it forever.
Those of us who are contingent faculty frequently don’t know where our students go when they leave our class. Often, what would be our proudest moments don’t occur in our classrooms–insights come to our students when something that happened in class finally hits them in a new way.
For me, an amazing moment came when I ran into a former student years after he had been in my class. I saw him on campus and asked him what he was doing there. He told me that he was working advising first-generation students. He offered to come talk to my intermediate ESL class, and their response to him was incredible. He was one of them, and if he could get his A.A., then his B.A., then his M.A., and be working on a Ph.D., it proved to them more than anything I could ever say or do what kinds of opportunities were really open to them.
Not sure which teaching moment might be my proudest if I had to rank order them, but I had a proud moment a couple of weeks ago while teaching a developmental writing class. I’ve been working at (gently) increasing rigor in my developmental classes, giving students more challenging readings and pushing their critical thinking a bit more than they’d like. To try to get them to buy into this, I decided to let them choose a topic to focus on for the semester, thinking that they’d have a better time writing and thinking about an issue of their choosing. Their choice: racism. (I was hoping for something a bit less charged, but oh, well…..)
In class a couple of weeks ago, we had just spent about 40 mins. discussing an article on racial profiling which they’d read for homework, some of them sharing very personal stories about times when they’ve been profiled, some of them trying to work out what might be good/bad, well-intentioned/racist about certain policing practices….After the discussion, I gave them a 5-minute break (it’s a 3-hour class), pleading with them to be back in a “true 5 minutes,” as we had a list of other things to cover during the remaining class time. Five minutes went by, six…seven….eight. No one was back in the classroom. A little frustrated, I went out to look for them. They were circled up in the hallway, debating racial profiling. They usually spend their break time texting….I was really, really proud of them.
I had a student walk into my room after school (half day) before Christmas break. He was “bored.” How he could be bored on the first day of vacation was beyond me. He finally had freedom, and we had only finished school 20 minutes before.
So I asked him what he wanted to be as an adult and he said “Lawyer.” My father was a lawyer, studying in his patrol car while he worked for the police department, and his journey through law school, to his first office in an empty building to his eventual success, ten years into his career, stuck with me always. I felt qualified to help him. I knew how much work it took to succeed in that field.So I told him, get the phone book, and call every law firm near you and ask to work for free there. They will say no, your job is to try, their job is to say no. Eventually, you’ll find someone who doesn’t say no.
He left, I forgot about it. Kids usually ignore what you teach. But when I got back from Winter break, he’d already started interning at a law firm, the 21st one he called.
The firm later played a key role in his adult life too, so somehow I did a great thing teaching him to work the phone, and not be afraid to hear “NO”.
I consider that my biggest teacher victory. I taught him courage.
Since I started teaching way back in 2004, I have come across quite a few proud moments, when I felt like I have found my passion. I never thought to be teacher while I myself used to be a student.
In early days of my teaching, when I was going through learning experience as to how to teach, a student came to me at the end of the class and said, “You have changed my way of thinking.” I asked him how and he responded, “Previously, I used to throw away the remaining water in the glass after drinking, but since I took your class of ethics, instead of throwing away that remaining water (after drinking) in the glass on the ground, I throw it (remaining water) in the roots of the trees.”
I got emotional (thanked the God) and tears came in my eyes and I started thinking, are my words so powerful that I am changing the minds of my wards to an extent that they are following me to such a level? That was the most proudest moment of my life to date, as through my teaching, I am not only fulfilling my obligation of passing on the legacy of good work to the future generation, but also working for elimination of environmental pollution for ‘green earth’.
After an evening class two mature women with families, whod come from jobs both wanted to get home and they were in my office at the same time. Both were immigrants, but one came from an impoverished background and the other from relatively elite circumstances. I had to work at building the first student up—she needed praise and encouragement—while demanding better performance from the other. They were wise and clearly understood that I was treating them differently, but also why I was doing so.
One of them found what she needed to keep on with a class she found very challenging, while the other saw that she needed to engage more than she was. There was something about being able to meet each of them where they needed to be met, and doing so at the same time and in the same place, that made me feel that I had achieved what I think of as the summum bonum of teaching—dealing with the individual student, not just the material.
Its when you see the ripple effects of things you did, kids you believed in, and things you taught in the classroom.
When I taught 6th grade at Charlotte Country Day School, I had a homeroom student that was making Cs and a few Bs in his classes. His Mom and Dad came in for a teachers conference and his father (a successful owner of multiple restaurants) was very displeased with his sons grades. I asked the Dad what he had made in school… the answer was Cs and Bs.
I talked to the Dad about the students many skills outside of academics. He was a great friend, well liked, an excellent communicator and generally someone who others liked to be around. He could lead others and could execute short term projects well. We talked about his likely path to follow his Dad into business and what skills would be needed there. His Dad was thoughtful and seemed to understand what I was saying.
Last week, I got to meet that student again. At thirty-four, hes married and has two young children and a wonderful wife. Hes financially successful and is a restaurant owner / manager and runs a successful catering service. He remembered me immediately and talked about the difference I made in his life over 20 years ago. He told me about later teachers who didnt like him and that he thought back to my conversations with him during those times. His Dad wrote me after he heard that we had connected, and said, We just need people that believe in us and those that allow us to time to get where we are headed.
Im proud I could have been that person who encouraged during a challenging time during this students like. Im blessed to have been able to see him and his success in life. Its amazing to me the distance and power some kind words of truth have.
Mine was most assuredly last semester. I had a student who took my course in the fall of 2013, and came out with a 35% average. He took the second half of the course in spring, and managed, with a lot of work, a lot of office hours, and a lot of patience on both our parts, to pull out a 70%.
And then came this fall, when he re-took the initial course. He busted his butt, and came out with a right-on-the-edge between a C and B. I cried when I entered that B. This kid had come so very far, and done such a huge amount of work. How could I not be proud? (also, the hug after he saw the grade wasn’t bad, either…)
I gave some classes at University. I had a student, during the first lesson, I thought that she would not be able to cope, she had a lot of difficulties to understand all the tricky aspects of the ancient language I was teaching, and to remember the vocabulary.
Well, she took every single advice I gave her, and she worked very hard, and I have never been as proud than the day I corrected the final (and most important) exam, and she had pretty good marks. I was very very proud of her, of all the work she had done.
And I was even prouder when I saw, the year after, that she had taken the next (and much harder) level, and she was doing well in it.
I’ve taught in the military for many years, and I substitute teach in my time off in local schools around town. I absolutely love teaching. It’s so much fun to go into a class and not know what you’re getting into. And when you’re substitute teaching, you have to try and figure out how to connect with a random group of kids. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but more often than not I succeed. I hope to be a “real teacher” when I retire in a few years from the military.
Anyways, this story is about one of my students when I started teaching in the military. I’ll call him Joe. Joe was a student I had in my first year of teaching. I always remember that he had a big smile on his face and he’d do these awesome Yoda or George Bush impressions to lighten the class up. Having a person like this in your classroom is always a joy. He was a great guy, and he and I continued to talk and correspond after he graduated the class. I ended up starting a public speaking group on the base and he was one of the members that always came out to the events and supported everything we did.
And as I was doing all this stuff on the side, I was still teaching ten-twelve hours a day when you count lesson preparation. I was getting worn out. I gave a lot of myself to each class and this can be emotionally exhausting work. My old boss, kind of like the school principal, once told me that he was worried about my health because I put so much of myself out there, and as a teacher you rarely get that back in return from the students. I didn’t really know what he meant at the time, but as the years went on I began to understand what he meant. You empty so much of yourself in each class that it can be hard when that isn’t reciprocated or noticed by anyone. It can make you tired and jaded.
Well, this good boss ended up leaving the school and we got a new boss in his place. She said she wasn’t going to change anything (note to self: whenever someone says they aren’t going to change something that means they’re going to change everything). It was a nightmare working for her. She was an obsessive micromanager. She was able to get results, but only by grinding her people down to the bone. But she was able to mind control you in the same way that a psychologically abusive mother can control her children. I promise you this story is leading somewhere.
This woman started to sap my will to teach out of me, and through a combination of always putting myself out there and never getting anything back in return, I started to dislike teaching. The new boss and I got into a huge fight one morning and I started to question my self-worth and what I was doing as a teacher in the military. But totally out of the blue and without any prompting from me, I got an email from Joe that very afternoon.
He said that it was obvious that I put myself out there and tried my best to make all my students and everyone around me better. He said even though this was obvious, he didn’t think that people ever told me how much they appreciated this. It was the most perfectly timed email I’ve ever received and one I still cherish. He then proceeds to write two pages of the nicest compliments I’d ever read. I was floored. Stunned. It was like the gods of karma told him to send me that message so it could keep me going. And it did.
I kept teaching the way I wanted to and the way I believed was right. I put all my effort into teaching doubled down on my efforts. And a cool thing started to happen: more and more of my old students started sending me random messages telling me how much they appreciated me as an instructor or coming by my office to say hello. It was a great feeling. I knew what I was doing was the right thing.
In the moment when I most questioned my abilities, Joe managed to bring me up when I most needed it.
I think these random acts of kindness happen too infrequently. So I always make it a point after I’ve read a good story or article to message the author and tell them why I enjoyed it; if I listen to an unknown band and really dig their music I’ll shoot them an email on Facebook; and it’s all because Joe taught me how powerful a random message from someone can keep you going when you’re at your lowest point.
During the first 2 months of my class (in a government school in Hyderaba) the class culture was a real shock to me. Children were used to beating, teasing and abusing one another and and it took a lot of time and energy to get them to behave well.
One day I started the class with the topic “Magic Words”.I taught them how important it us to use words such as please, sorry, thank you, and excuse me. I thought this wouldn’t make a huge impact, but at least felt like giving it a shot.
Even today, almost 7 months later, when I hear kids requesting one another, apologising to one another and sorting out issues by saying the magic word. It feels amazing ! These are instances when they ask one another to use the “magic words” to convey their message. I feel blessed to be teaching such a bunch of well behaved and sincere kids now!
My proudest moment did not come in the classroom. I was walking across campus and saw a former student so I said, “HI! How are you?” he hesitated and then said, “Not so well.” So I sat with him and listened as he told me about how he had just found out his girlfriend had been cheating on him and he was about to confront her. All I did was listen, but the trust we had established in the classroom the year before carried over so he knew he could trust me to be there for him. He was a football player so he felt could not talk to any of his guy friends about this. As the girlfriend approached and I got up to leave, I told him to email me in a few days to let me know how he was doing. He did and said in the email how much it meant to him that I sat with him and listened.
We do not often get feedback from former students. His trust in me told me that I was doing a good job in the classroom.
Ive taught for only six months, and I must say, those were the best days of my life -the best job in the span of 10 years of my career so far!
I taught English to Grade 8, three sections, and would grade their assignments strictly. Many students would come to me complaining that Ive graded their papers rather unfairly, because they thought they deserved a better grade. Even parents were worried as English grades affected their childs final class promotion score card.
Id only smile and tell them that the students hard work will pay off in the long term – i.e. when they take their O Levels.
I left after six months but many students remained in touch. Fast forward three years, it was time for my class to sit for English Language and Literature O Levels papers. A number of them requested me to help them prepare for the exams. We prepared via Skpy sessions, Facebooked and even emailed.
When the results were announced, approximately 90% of the class scored As. How proud I felt of their achievement!
My students are now preparing for their A Levels. I am in touch with most of them. It feels amazing to see little children transform beautifully into young adults. They are participating in various MUNs, debate competitions and even preparing to travel the world on student scholarships.
Girls have started looking very lady-like and boys are handsome, young men. I cant describe how proud I feel of these children, whom I had once taught in a small classroom.
Mariam Naeem Khan
My favorite story is about a young man in the 5th grade, not typically a “good” student. I was teaching on the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and explaining how they all tell the story of the life of Jesus, but from different angles. My explanation is that if you have a large intersection and there is one person on each corner, and there is a big accident, all four would see the same event, but from four different perspectives.
And he said, “Yeah, like if a tire came off and was rolling right at me. That would be exciting and scary to me, but the other three might not even see it!” Egads, he got it! He understood the lesson, and I was proud of him for being engaged in the conversation and using his brain to make a good example that the other kids would readily understand.
I’ve taught acting classes sporadically in the last ten years, and I recently had one of my former students come to me and tell me that I was the best teacher she’s ever had and that I was the sole reason she had the guts to move to LA and give it a real shot and she’s doing quite well… I nearly cried.
I have several stories, too many to put here. All of them, in one way or another, not only make me proud: they validate my decision to go into the teaching profession, both as a classroom teacher and owner of an educational consulting firm called No Tears Tutoring.
One story goes back to my early days of teaching. I was doing a stint at a local high school (Special Ed). One of the young men in my resource class could not read above a 4th grade level. His only motivation was passing the reading portion of the exam to become a fire fighter. Beyond that, he could care less about reading and he let me know that on a regular basis. No matter what I did, I could no get through to him and I felt like a failure.
A couple of years later I was walking in the park. It was an especially hot day and I was dressed in the skimpiest of tee shirts and shorts. I passed a bunch of young men who started hooting and hollering when they saw me. As I passed by, one of these young men told the guys to shut up. “Hey, that’s my teach, she’s cool.” I smiled and said “Hello,” and kept going. I hadn’t gone far when he came running up to me. “Hey, teach, hold up,” he said. “I wanted to thank you. You taught me how to read. I passed the exam and my dream came true. I am now a fireman. And I love it. You’re the best.”
The most memorable one involved a student who was in my algebra class, and putting in extra work as a volunteer to help lower level students. Putting in a certain number of hours allowed her to replace a low test grade with a passing grade based on those volunteer hours. The problem was, at the end of the semester, she had not passed enough of the 5 tests to pass (at least a C) the class. She made an appointment to see me after the grades were posted, but she did not show. I assume she wanted to talk me into a passing grade, but it was not something that would have been possible at that point.
A couple of semesters later, I had her in another of that same class again, and asked her why since I knew she had been taking math classes in the time after she did not pass mine. It turned out that she had made a C in the class with another teacher, and was in my class to better her grade so it would look good for application to nursing school. I had her in a statistics class the next semester, and she did fine. After that I did not see her for at least another year.
I recently saw her talking to another student in her student nursing uniform, and she told me she had been accepted as a nursing student. I congratulated her, and she hugged me. I felt very proud to be the teacher of someone who did not take the easy way out, and who pushed past failure, and adversity to do their best.
When a student who has been struggling in a subject, and who seemed to lack the mental wherewithall to grasp it, finally , through sheer perseverance and determination, masters it.
I have an algebra tutoree right now who came to me in October, totally lost. She not only lacked the basic skills needed to process algebra, she seemed to be unable to process math concepts in a normal manner. She could not comprehend or remember the most basic concepts…and I really do mean “basic” when I say that. Her other grades were excellent, but it really looked like she might have a learning disability when it came to math.
She struggled, and I struggled to help her, and there seemed to be so little hope for improvement that at times I wondered how she could keep going like she did. She never gave up. Even when she was so tired from school she could barely read the problems, she still tried her hardest to do them.
For five months I tried to find ways to communicate concepts so she could grasp them. We drilled stuff for hours that other kids would remember after the first try. She was depressed over how little good it did, but she never, ever gave up.
Five months later, she’s finally getting it. She looks at a formula and can figure out what needs to be done. She got B’s on a few tests, and while she’s still struggling to keep up–it takes her a long time to grasp new concepts–it’s clear that she’s cleared whatever mental hurdle that was making math incomprehensible.
Last week she was doing homework and I asked if she needed help. She waved the offer off and said casually, “No thanks, I”m good.” Her last test was an A. I’m so proud of her I could cry.
I was coach of the academic decathlon team. One boy was on the third rank division, but came to the contest while other, higher ranked students chose to skip the competition fearing, I imagine, not scoring high enough. We needed at least one student in the highest ranked contest, and this boy volunteered to move up two ranks and represent our school by himself. It has been at least twenty-six years and I just teared up writing this. This happened in junior high school. As he left me to walk up onto the stage, I told him, All men ultimately fight alone.
Richard P. Morrall
I have been teaching for four years now. I teach in a regular public high school in Singapore, where academic is the main focus most of the time, but I often felt that there were loads of better moments.
I had a student who came in with a very kiasu (afraid to lose) mindset. Striving for excellence in everything he does and wants to achieve everything, not realising that not just it is incredibly difficult to do so, but he is burning himself out.
Once he came to me asking for advice for his revision plan ahead of a major assessment. At one look I knew that it was totally unfeasible and the boy would not be getting enough sleep. I suggested that he adjust bits and portions of it, incorporating sufficient rest and play time. I also suggested to him that he needs to keep his plans flexible such that if need be, the schedule needs to be adjusted.
He listened. And he kept coming back to me for advice in revision planning for the major assessments in the next one and a half years. Slowly, he began reviewing his own revision plans. He began analysing it even during parent teacher meetings.
At the end of the two years, he came to me with a final revision plan for his national examination. And as he explained to me how he drew up the plan, my heart was filled with pride.
It didn’t matter how much academic content I can teach the kids. A life skill like this is definitely worth so much more.
Some of this material has been edited for clarity.