For their fourth quarter benchmark I required my Leadership students to write and present an essay about what they hope to leave behind as their legacy. Some asked me about my own. This is what I would have liked to have written/said to them.
For many decades now I have hoped to leave a literary legacy, to be remembered for my written words if not like John Steinbeck or Charles Dickens, perhaps like Bram Stoker or Charles L. Grant. Time will tell whether or not such a thing will be; one thing I’ve discovered is that writing success depends too much on luck to rely on literary fame as the foundation of a legacy. So there’s my children, but that’s a cop-out. I fertilized an egg and raised a human to adulthood, trying to instill values and responsibility. It’s too common. So what would I leave as my legacy? The answer is simple enough.
My students are my legacy. I have touched all of their lives in some way. Sometimes I only offended them enough to change classes. Other times all they remember about my class are some of the jokes I told or that we laughed a lot. But sometimes they tell me they were prepared for college because of me. Or that something I did or said, or simply being there when they needed someone probably saved their life. Too often those moments come without me even realizing we are in them. Too many of my kids are living in circumstances I couldn’t have imagined at their ages.
They leave my class. They go to college or they go to work. Maybe they don’t squander their paychecks because I taught them how to recognize rhetoric or maybe they ace a college English exam because I taught them how to recognize the purpose of a symbol in fiction, or maybe they ease into a new work community be repeating a joke I told them for the amusement of their new co-workers.
If I’ve helped them in any way, great or small, I have left a legacy. And, while praise from on high for my next literary offering would be sweet, I already know that wouldn’t be a substitute for having someone visit years after graduating to say, “You made a positive difference in my life.” What better legacy could there be?
Since February I have made it known I am looking for a new job and what drove me to this decision. My students know it, and those kids who would be my students in the next year or two know it. And they understand. But still they come to me with, “I’ve been waiting three years to be in your class. Please don’t leave now. Stay one more year.” Or worse, “My cousin told me you’re one of the only people I can trust to listen to me when I need to talk. Please don’t leave.” This has complicated the job search a great deal. It’s very hard to leave people who want you to stay, and even harder when you know those people often don’t have any support or encouragement at home or anywhere else they are likely to go.
And so I’m left to wonder where and how my legacy will continue.
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