I enjoy writing though I’m not very good at it. My spelling is horrible. My sentence constructions can be bested my many 10 year olds, and my grammar hasn’t improved since junior high school. Yet I continue. Becoming a writer is what I dreamt of becoming when I was a kid. I’ve yet to realize that dream. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.
Kids dream of all sorts of things they’d be when they become adults. While in Namibia, I had put together a series of lectures I would present to secondary and high school kids that exposed them to things I thought they just would not see otherwise. The lecture series was my way of addressing what I saw as a limit to the imagination natural to young minds. Whenever I asked a Namibian child what he or she wanted to be when they grew up I would get invariably the same answers: a nurse, a teacher, an engineer. All admirable careers, but the answers all lacked vision. What kind of nurse? Did they know they could specialize and become an emergency or operating room nurse? Did they know they could teach yoga, programming, or the art of sword making? Did they have any idea that nearly everything in our modern world requires specialized engineering?
They did not.
My lectures were supposed to expose these young minds to the vastness of human endeavor. I showed them how medicine and engineering produced prosthetics that allowed people to walk, pick up a can of soda, or see again. I showed them people who taught machines how to dance, open doors, and run on two legs like its creators. I showed them devices engineered to take people into the deepest, darkest, coldest places on earth and view, first hand, creatures never seen before by man.
Did it work?
I don’t know. They were wowed when the watched a Boston Dynamics robot do a backflip and open a door without human assistance. They appeared mesmerized by men and women who seemed to possess comic book-like powers granting them superhuman speed, and strength through engineered prosthetics. They gasped when a diver surprised an octopus that had disguised itself as a rock. The students and teachers applauded loudly an asked for more, but did any of it mean anything?
I like to think that my lectures and presentations were more than hour-long distractions. I earnestly hope that hearing me talk and showing them video snippets of the world beyond their classrooms and auditoriums planted a seed in what I hope were minds still fertile and nourished with imagination and wonder. But I’m a realist, I know I will likely never know if anything I said or showed took root.
I left Namibia is 2020 as COVID became a pandemic. Some of those high schoolers may be freshman now in the University of Namibia or other institutes of higher eduction. Hopefully, by the time they are seniors, they will have decided of a career path and, hopefully, a few may remember the lectures and videos I showed and make a decision based on what they saw and heard.
I suppose what I’m wondering at the moment is what many teachers must wonder at some point in their career: did I make a difference? I am no teacher, but the sentiment is the same and I’ll likely never know if I made a difference, but I believed it was worth the effort.
Maybe I should keep trying.
Trust that you made a difference. I had students come back years later to visit and thank me. I was even approached at a restaurant by a young man with a child who recognized me as his 7th grade teacher. Hearing how they had become such wonderful adults was always heartwarming and I couldn’t believe that they thank ME for helping to make that happen. What a privilege! So yes, you changed lives beyond your dreams.
If you’ve had some come back to thank you I’m sure there are hundreds more who would do the same given the chance.
Thank you for reading.
Becoming is what we do every day we are blessed to be alive. We never stop becoming, because there is no 100% perfection in any human attempt. But, oh, the journey! Vern, I can say with confidence that you DID make a difference with those young minds in Namibia. You STILL make a difference every day with anyone you encounter, by sharing who you are, by having the curiosity and hunger to ask great questions of yourself and others, and by continuing to work towards your dreams with us along for part of the ride. I thank you for that! Your writing keeps me wanting more… and in my eyes that makes you a writer!
The journey! You are so right! It is the journey that makes the effort at least partially worthwhile, but to positively affect someone else’s journey, that’s where the rest of the worth lies.
I have been affected by so many, both positively and negatively. To others I want to contribute positively to their journeys.
Thank you for reading and your comments.
Vern,I have a friend whoâs been a teacher for so long that her former 5th grade students bring their kids to visit. When threeÂ of her former students graduated from HS, theyÂ presented Katie with a Life Impact Diploma. She is one ofÂ the most dedicated teachers I know.Â See attached photos.So, even though youâre now living âacross the pondâ from your former students, Iâm sure youâve made an impact on their lives too.Â Denise
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Hi Denise! Thank you for that!
As I said in the post, I’m no teacher, to call myself such is an insult to teachers everywhere, especially your friend who obviously deserves the recognition she got.
My contribution to the lives of the kids I lectured, however small it might have been, was still worth the effort in my mind. I’d gladly do it again.
The other part of this is something your teacher friend would understand. I seldom do anything with a thought of possible rewards afterwards. If I see something that needs doing and I can do it, I do it, then move on. Even so, when one looks back, it would be nice to know if what was done helped. That’s the gist of my post and I think real teachers are cut from similar cloth.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
Yes, even though you don’t consider yourself a Bona Fide teacher, you really are a teacher in your own way. By showing those kids a different aspect of their future, you taught them to think outside the box. I’m sure you “taught” them many other things too while you were there. And like my pal Katie, never does anything in expectations of a reward. You never know….maybe you’ll run into them again someday. And yes, it would be nice to hear if your lecture made an impact in these young people’s minds. Kudos to you for going to Namibia and helping them to see beyond their little world.
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