A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
From the first moments of my teaching career, I was challenged and affirmed by those words of Henry Adams’ spoken to me by my undergraduate methods professor in such a way that they struck me as a statement of the call to teach as a kind of noblesse oblige.
During my years of active teaching service, when I was “doing,” I admit focusing on the first grandiose idea: A teacher affects eternity. Those words filled me with endless expectancies. Unlimited possibilities.
Now that my retirement is imminent, as I reflect on the teacher I have been, I admit that the second half of the quote (he can never tell where his influence stops), particularly the phrase “can never tell” resonates more with me. And does so in an almost haunting way. And I find myself substituting “will never know” for “can never tell.” And that substitution leaves me feeling unfulfilled–empty.
Unless someone tells me, identifies for me in no uncertain terms how my teaching has affected him or her, I can only surmise or suppose—maybe inaccurately—about the effect I have had.
So, here I am resigned to knowing that in this life, I might never get the reward or satisfaction of knowing for sure what kinds of—if any—differences I have made.
But then, maybe it takes being in eternity to know eternal things.
That’s a nice thing to look forward to, don’t you think?
What is true for teachers, I believe, is true for all of us. Do you know how your work has affected eternity? Can you tell? Can you say?