Meanwhile, I’ve been working on another book idea. It brings wise sayings, quotations, stories, and insights to the attention of readers, especially teachers. The piece below represents one of these:

The Starfish Story

There was a young man walking down a deserted beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a frail old man. As he approached the old man, he saw him picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The young man gazed in wonder as the old man again and again threw the small starfish from the sand into the water.

He asked, “Hey, old man, why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?”

The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.

“But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish!” exclaimed the young man. “How can you make any difference?”

The old man looked at the small starfish in his hand and as he threw it to the safety of the sea. He paused and said, “It makes a difference to this one.”

Adapted from Loren Eisley, The Night Country

Stories such as this one speak to the heart of the work that teachers do every day. Like the old man who picks up starfish and tosses them back into the sea, we do the same with children. Unlike him, however, we rarely know when we succeed. We don’t know when a child comes back to a safe place in our classroom, back to a place of peace in her heart, or whether we had anything to do with it.

How can we, as teachers, recognize the full impact that we have upon our children, yet at the same time recognize that, more often than not, we will never know when or how?

Once we comprehend the full significance and responsibility of our work, how do we live with our limitations, shortcomings, and inevitable failures? How do we defend ourselves in the face of criticism when we fail in our efforts on behalf of children? How do we accept that we rarely receive praise when we do succeed?

When we do succeed, how can we share our successes with colleagues? For example, once a month we could ask to set aside time to celebrate accomplishments. Why not put smiles on one another’s faces? Why not show compassion for one another? Maybe it will become contagious!

Finally, we can ponder the words of Gandhi: “Whatever you do will not be enough, but it matters enormously that you do it.”

For more specific ideas about teaching see Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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