Written by Patrick Kiernan //
As my year of teaching overseas in Ghana comes to an end, I have been thinking a lot about how my students and coworkers will remember me. Looking back on my own middle school days, there are very few class lessons that I can actually remember. Now that I am a middle school teacher myself, I find this a little disheartening. I put hours of time into preparing lessons for my middle school students, yet I know they will likely forget most of the class lessons that I teach them.
If I look back at my grade school teachers, I can remember their names and at least one thing about them. For some, it is an instance of praise I received. For others, it is an act of discipline. No matter, I typically remember the overall temperament of the teacher, and some small moment on top of that.
My memory of my teachers is probably not much different from your memory of many people in your life. If you stop to think of the people you have interacted with over the years, chances are you only have a few memories of each person. Whether it’s the crossing-guard who helps you cross the street as a kid, or a bank-teller depositing your check as an adult, we all have people we interact with during the day who typically only fulfill a functional role in our lives. In the same way, we play a functional role in the lives of others as well. And so we, like everyone else, come and go in and out of many people’s lives. So how will we remember others? And how will they remember us?
As I look back on this past year of teaching overseas, I will remember the little moments and lessons that I learned from the people around me. I will remember the way Courage, the school security guard, would greet me with a smile each morning to welcome me as I often frantically rushed into the school’s premises to begin my day. I will remember the time a coworker came to my classroom at the end of the day and encouraged me with some kind words. He knew about the stress I was facing during that week, and he reassured me that “this too shall pass.” I will remember the moments my eyes met those of my coworker Linda, who would give me a big friendly smile. You know, the kind of smile with a shake of the head that says, “May God help us with these students!” These smiles told me that I was not alone in the madness of a busy school day. I will remember the time when one of my fellow teachers went out of her way to help me direct my class play. Her simple act of kindness showed me that she cared about my class’ success as much as her own.
I believe some memories speak volumes about a person. They are like a kaleidoscope you can look into and see the character, values, and intentions of another. When people remember me, I hope their memories remind them of someone who was humble and selflessly served others. Beyond this, I hope their memories of me push them to love other people more.
While I have recently graduated from college, I have not stopped learning from the people around me. I am thankful for the unexpected life lessons that I have learned during these days and I have come to believe that everyone has the capacity to touch the life of another person. In five years’ time, most of the people you are interacting with today will probably remember you for something small. No matter what that memory is, you have the opportunity to create it today. No matter your job position in life — whether you are a medical surgeon or a taxi driver, a world-class chef or an accountant, a mechanic or a salesman — you have the opportunity to impact someone else’s life today. You may be remembered by something small, the way I remember my middle school teachers. But that small moment might speak volumes about you as a person, and could be a memory someone carries with them for the rest of their life.
Patrick Kiernan is a recent college graduate and first-year teacher in Ghana. He enjoys spending time riding his motorcycle in Ghana’s Eastern Region and supporting a small local football club called Kitase Boys FC.