Often times in an educator’s career we talk about the rare moments that keep us coming back to work each year.

Those rare moments where through all the struggles, hardships, joys, and pains make it all worthwhile.

How many times have you been there at the precise moment in a student’s life where the light bulb of learning “turned on?” If you were there, did you notice it at that very moment?

I can count only three moments in my 16 years in education, but the most recent is probably the one I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Let me explain.

Due to factors out of my control, above my pay grade, and for another discussion, I have to teach classes as well as complete my administrative duties each day. This year, I am teaching in a primary special education classroom though the bulk of my experience is in high school classrooms.

Earlier this year I received a student, lets call him Marc, from the early childhood special education class. He transitioned to my primary special education class in the first grade, at six years old. He rarely spoke, knew few words, was an emerging reader, and couldn’t write anything other than tracing letters and words given to him. I began to try to teach him though his struggles made him apprehensive and defensive toward any new learning. He often refused to try to speak or write, choosing to just cling to me and follow me wherever I went in the classroom or school.

Soon Marc decided to say a few words to me and eventually we began to talk albeit only a few words each day. I would read to him and sometimes Marc would try to repeat the words back to me. I also made words on lined paper and Marc would trace them and sometimes say the word if I said it first.

Though he wasn’t much of a conversationalist, Marc spoke to me every morning with the most adorable smile and heartfelt greeting with a sunny grin and hug to match.

One day Marc and I were “reading” a book, Marc repeating the words I was saying softly while looking at the pictures. My attention became distracted by another student and I looked away but before I knew it, my attention snapped back to Marc because I suddenly realized that he was still reading on his own. I looked at him in the eyes, his eyes wide with joy, and he yelled out: “I’m reading!”

Right at that precise moment I could see that the learning light within him turned on.

We as educators often describe moments where our students are learning and what happens in that moment. But how many of us can pinpoint the exact moment where the learning begins? How many of us can say: “I saw it the moment it happened?” Those moments are extremely rare, and our profession allows us the privilege of being there to experience it during those special times they occur. They should be cherished and respected.

Well, to continue, Marc kept on reading and reading and reading. When he finished one book, he ran to get another one and read some more. Once he completed that book, he ran to get another one. This went on for quite some time that morning. It actually was a pleasure to see and I tried hard to fight back the tears of joy that I hadn’t realized were streaming down my face from seeing the delight in Marc’s eyes and soul because he was reading for the first time in his life.

Later in the day he also began to write…on his own. No tracing, no prompting, and with no assistance from me.

For the remainder of the day, I couldn’t give Marc enough work to do. He just kept asking for more and more work. He was so proud of himself and I couldn’t be happier. If I tried to go help another student, he ran and tugged on my shirt to give him more work or show me what he had just completed or just read.

Needless to say this was on of the proudest moments of my life not to mention my career. Though the life part of this statement is far more important.

For the next few weeks, I saw Marc make leaps and bounds in his learning and the happier he got with the increase of what he could do made my heart fill with happiness. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t wait to see Marc the next day. Even his classmates became inspired to do more because they saw what he could do and remembered where he started. The others said: “If he can do it and learn, then so can I!”

Now, I wish I could give you a happy ending to this story and say that moving toward the end of the year Marc has surpassed his grade level and grown tremendously. However, unfortunately his mother decided to move and transfer him to another school.

I miss him dearly.

We only have few opportunities as educators or even as human beings to touch and inspire the lives of others. Though I was Marc’s teacher, I do believe I was the one being taught. Marc showed me that through it all, good and bad, day in and day out, everyone has a special gift and can learn more than they realize as long as they have someone who believes in them. At those moments we think we are ready to give up and quit, life shows you that our efforts are very much worthwhile though they may not come up as quickly as we would want them to.

I hope I have the opportunity to teach Marc again (or be taught by him again).

If not, I will cherish the moments I was with him and appreciate that as an educator and as a man I was able to be there the moment a young man began to realize he could learn.

Because at that moment, at 6 years old, his potential was endless: his growth pointed upward toward infinity.

Good luck Marc. May our paths cross again one day and you realize your true potential and success.

I have a hug and a smile waiting for you on that glorious day!

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