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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Do you make a difference?

The pandemic was the worst catastrophe ever experienced by educators, past and present. As a result many students fell behind, lost interest, felt frustrated, and, probably, even thought of quitting.

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Have veterans who have returned from Vietnam and Afghanistan made a difference? In both cases the wars were essentially lost. In both cases the people really didn’t want us to occupy their country in the first place.

The question remains, “Did the soldiers make a difference?” If you take both countries as a whole into consideration, the answer is probably not. The communists did take over Vietnam and not much has changed on the positive side in Afghanistan considering who is now in control. However, when you look at each soldier individually and their interaction with one or two or a group of people, they did make a difference.

The same can be said for VISTA volunteers, Teacher Corps, Peace Corps and other similar volunteer organizations where young and older adults are sent or volunteer to go into a community, state or country to make some needed changes. Many leave their assignment wondering if they have made a difference. The community, state or country hasn’t changed. What good has resulted from their experience? No doubt teachers have asked themselves that question after facing the pandemic.

Last year teachers faced the most difficult year in their careers. They encountered something that they were nowhere near prepared for—the pandemic. The same is true of 9/11. We really didn’t know what to do or how to feel or how to act or react. It was our Pearl Harbor day. But, of course, how could you prepare for a catastrophe of this nature? Even though we think we are prepared for hurricanes, to cite another example, it is never really enough. The results tell us the truth.

The pandemic was the worst catastrophe ever experienced by educators, past and present. As a result many students fell behind, lost interest, felt frustrated, and, probably, even thought of quitting. The feelings of teachers were much the same and some did leave the profession and some students did drop out of school. It was kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Did any good come out of the pandemic for educators?

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One of my favorite quotes is by Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.” I would rewrite Adams’ quote so it is more inclusive and say, “Teachers affect eternity. They never know when their influence stops.”

As we look back at schools everywhere, this is the lesson that teachers need to take away from last year’s experience. Even though it was a tough year. Without a doubt many students were affected in a positive way. Their influence never stops.

When those firefighters walked up the Trade Center stairs 20 years ago, I doubt if many thought they were going to save everyone but if they could just save one or two or three, that’s all that mattered. They disregarded their own safety and comfort to save a few.

Of the 50,000 people employed at the Trade Center, 3,000 lost their lives including 300 firefighters and police officers. No doubt there were hundreds if not thousands of lives saved because of the actions of the first responders.

About 125,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan at this point. At the time it was impossible to evacuate the tens of thousands more that wanted to leave. We hope the future will be kind to them and we hope that more can leave that want to leave.

There’s an old saying, “You lose the war but you win the battle.” When we look at things in terms of making a difference in just one person’s life, we have won the battle. Wars will continue and they will continue long after we are gone and if we win a battle here and there, that’s what will make a difference.

It was also a tough year for Project Graduate and our goal of graduating 100% of our students. It’s too early to tell if we are making a difference. Maybe, just maybe, a student read some literature, heard us on the radio, saw a 100% flashing sign and because of what they read or heard or saw, they decided that graduation from high school was the best decision to make. I hope that was the case.

Our lives have been changed forever because of 9/11 and the pandemic. But, life goes on. It helps, however, knowing that with almost 100% certainty that you and I have made a difference in someone’s life and because of that difference, we have made the world just a bit better.

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Riddle: How many legs does a horse have if you count its tail as a leg? (Answer: Four. Just because you call its tail a leg, doesn’t make it a leg. Just because we had a terrible year due to the pandemic, doesn’t mean there wasn’t also much good that took place.)

100%

When you remind young people to graduate, you have taken a big first step to making a difference.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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