Some time ago I was studying what happens when teachers go through a process of developing a personal vision. One of the teachers I was working with was Mary Francis Wagner, a wonderful language arts teacher in the Raytown School District, outside of Kansas City.

One day when I met Mary and asked her how her day was going, she replied, “Today is a good day.”  It turned out that Mary had received a letter from one of her former students, a girl she had taught in 12th-grade English.  Mary shared the letter, written on the letterhead of a legal firm. In part, as I recall, it read as follows:

Dear Mrs. Wagner,

You may not remember me, but 12 years ago, I was in your AP English class. During the class you asked me what my plans were for after I graduated.  I told you I was planning to be a legal secretary, and you told me, don’t be a secretary, be a lawyer. Well today I was just named partner in my law firm.  I want you to know that it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for you …

Mary’s letter was a beautiful testament to her successful teaching, and also a gracious gesture by a student, demonstrating the impact teachers can have on their students. But I don’t believe the impact that Mary had on her former student was exceptional. This is what teachers do: Through their love of learning and their love of children and young adults, teachers profoundly affect the future.

Teachers have the chance, each day, to open their students up to possibilities that the students often don’t have any inkling they hold within them.  With what they teach, with what they believe, and how they act, teachers shape the lives of their students.  There is no doubt teachers leave a legacy with every student they teach.

This then is the critical question: What is my legacy?

Every day as you plan your lessons, activities, and learning experiences, please recognize that what you do with your students will help shape their lives.  Other than parents, few people have greater potential to make the difference that teachers make. How you answer the question above determines what kind of difference you make.