By Ann B. Welch, Ph.D.
1993 CEC Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year
Special Education Resource Teacher
Staunton City Schools, Virginia
In the stress of lesson plans, paperwork, committee meetings, and teaching, it can be easy to forget how important we are for our students. As a new teacher, when the situation in which you are teaching may be quite different from what you experienced in your student teaching, it is especially important to remember that you make a difference. You make a difference even if you are not yet the teacher you will be. You make a difference even if you feel unprepared and overwhelmed. You make a difference because you care.
I am not suggesting that teaching is only about caring. Teaching, especially teaching students with disabilities, is based on science and skill as well as art and heart. But the art of teaching, and the heart of teaching, are the foundation upon which we build. The research on resiliency tells us the importance of even a single adult who believes in a child and conveys that belief to the child. Be that person. Be that person every day, for every child. Let your students know, verbally and nonverbally, that you believe in them. Let them know that you are striving to be the best you can be and you see that they are striving as well. Let them know that you make mistakes, too. Let them know that their mistakes are not the sum of who they are. Mistakes are the way we learn.
I have just returned from the CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) annual conference in Washington, DC, where I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Robert Brooks again. He suggested that we ask ourselves, at the end of every day, about every child we teach, “Did I help this child become stronger today?” I know there have been days in my teaching career when I could not honestly answer “yes.” But I strive every day to remember the question and to be able to answer it in the affirmative. Dr. Brooks also reminded us that we will not always know that we made a difference. I remember speaking to a teacher who taught kindergarten in a remote First Nations school in British Columbia, Canada. She had just received a high school graduation announcement from a student she had taught 12 years before. The student had moved away from the community when he was in elementary school. The teacher did not remember him particularly well. But something she said or did when that child was in kindergarten was so important to him that he wanted her to know he had graduated from high school. As a teacher, our impact is not always immediate, and it is not always known, but it is always there. You make a difference.
You can access some of Dr. Robert Brooks' articles at