I just finished reading an inspiring article about Frankie Ball, a middle school music teacher struggling with cancer in Maryland who was honored when over 200 of his former students–now in their 20s and 30s–returned to play a black tie tribute concert for him.
By all accounts, Ball is a great man who has changed lives–memorable in every way. While his bands were always highly accomplished and recognized for excellence, Ball’s contributions went far beyond the classroom.
Former students call him one of the greatest influences in their lives and credit him with much of their success as musicians and as people. As Will Reardon-Anderson, a sophomore at Julliard said, "He cared about producing good musicians and good people."
Ball’s story got me thinking about the kinds of contributions that I make in the lives of my students. Time and again, they describe me as someone that they look up to. Their eyes light up when I come to see them in after-school activities and fill with tears when they’ve let me down.
A synergy drives their efforts, built on shared bonds between us. Graduation season sees my mailbox filled with notes from seniors taking time to remember. And honestly, those moments drive me as a person. Knowing that my words and actions can build character and carve futures is almost humbling.
But is that enough?
I wonder because while parents praise my work, the gains that my students make on our state’s end of grade exams are only slightly above average. Other teachers on my hallway tend to get better results while serving similar student populations.
In that sense, they outperform me.
So what should I be held accountable for as an educator? Are outcomes such as standardized test scores and academic growth the primary measure of successful teaching? Or are we responsible for far more–including making a life-long impact on children?
Can teachers be considered accomplished if their students don’t make extraordinary academic gains? Are accomplished teachers automatically influential and remembered for their character and compassion?