Since the creation of ReesSpecht Life I find myself profoundly more aware of the impact we have on others’ lives on a daily basis. Our mission to change the world, one piece at a time, will always be our charge and I believe we are accomplishing that goal every single day. What I forgot in all of the amazing moments of the past few months is the impact I had as a teacher, and continue to have, prior to ReesSpecht Life (and I do not mean my running into the wall, which is a literal impact – albeit with a wall!). This past June marked the end of my 13th year of teaching science at Great Hollow Middle School and in many ways it was my most difficult and most rewarding year. My students this year were put through their own tumultuous time with a school year truncated by Super Storm Sandy and Blizzard Nemo, and through the loss of their Science teacher for a month and a half after Rees died.
I remember my first day back at work after Rees died like it was yesterday. I sat in the parking lot that morning, hands gripping the steering wheel – clutched tightly as the panic of facing my students and colleagues sunk in, trying to build up the courage to make the relatively short trek to science room 213. I remember feeling like the eyes of the world (or at least all of Nesconset NY) were upon me. I felt as though I could hear the whispers in other’s minds as I walked past: ” Oh my God, he’s back”, and “I don’t know what to say” being the words I most imagined were running through their heads. My Principal was the first person up to my room to greet me that morning and he gave me a re-assuring handshake and words of encouragement. I was nauseous right up until my first period class walked through my door and then something incredible happened: nothing. There was no discernible difference in my students from what I had remembered prior to Rees’ passing. They smiled. They exulted my return. They welcomed me back – and one very special student said the words “I’m here for you.”. (Thank you James!) I saw some trepidation from a few of them, but for the most part there was no change.
After losing Rees one of my first fears was how I could ever return to my classroom? I felt as though the part of me that I channel for my teaching; namely my inner child, had died along with Rees. I feared I could no longer put on the show of being “Mr. Specht” and instead I would have to act like some Mr. Specht doppelganger – a guise I was sure the students would see right through. Amazingly, and almost instantly, upon my return, I realized that Mr. Specht did not die… no, he was alive and well and looking to get back to life. The next few days with my students found me settling right back in, telling my jokes and doing “my thing”. For the 41 minutes I was in front of my students all was right in the world. I am sure the peace that I found while teaching was just as reassuring to my students, who no doubt had wonders as to if I would truly be “back” when I returned. For 41 minutes, five times a day, I was whole again – and it felt good.
It was during this same time that the real traction for ReesSpecht life started to take hold. The planning for our first fundraiser was well on its way and the ReesSpecht life Cards were in their planning stages. To be honest, ReesSpecht Life became my nearly full time focus – a distraction I needed to keep me from wallowing in the sorrow that welled up at the shore of my soul. I continually focused on the impact that ReesSpecht life would have on others, and I even entertained thoughts of leaving teaching to run the foundation full time. In my mind I now had the opportunity to make an impact in people’s lives that wasn’t going to be falsely measured by some bureaucratic ideal of standardized test results and value added scoring equations that make Schrodinger’s differential equation for the quantum behavior of light look rudimentary. This idea was not quick to fade, and in some respects remains with me as a fantasy more than anything. Would I love to tour the country doing presentations like I did at Stony Brook’s freshman orientation full-time? You bet. To me, passing on my experience with this tragedy and how it opened my eyes is just as valuable as teaching students about the scientific method – except their was one flaw in my logic, that until today, I did not realize: I am making an impact in my student’s lives already and it DOES NOT MATTER what pencil pushing politicians, who are frankly trying their damndest to destroy public education, think about my performance. The real measurement of my success is this:
“Hi Mr. Specht,
This is (name withheld). We are currently in Disney about halfway through our trip and I realized some stuff that I thought I should share with you.
1. Well I have always disliked “It’s a small world” but now I hate it even more, while waiting on line I looked up and looked at the name.”It’s a small world”, THAT’S A CONFORMATIONAL BIAS!! It is really not a small world! Haha
2. The second one is about science, well today we are going to Epcot and I am excited to go on a certain ride. Going in to this year I liked, enjoyed and was interested in Science. But after 182 days in room 213 listening to you I my feeling about Science was quadrupled and then doubled and then tripled and probably quadrupled again but you get the point. So this ride is the Living Earth (I think that is the name, it is the ride by Soarin about plants) and I am excited to go on it because this year in Bio I learned more in that class than any other class (both about science and life). So since I know all this stuff now I will be able to understand a lot about the ride.
So yeah this some stuff I realized because of bio this year. I hope your summer is going well and I hope you have a good class next year. Have fun in Disney.
Once again I want to thank you so much for teaching me so much about science and more importantly life and how to live and get the most out of life.”
For almost nine months now I found myself searching for ways to make an impact on the world and make this a better place. Turns out I already was; I was just blind to it. Most students who have yet to have me know me as the teacher that “Runs into walls”. For almost my entire career I thought the only thing I was impacting with great force was the wall into which I ran. Turns out that impact reverberated throughout my classroom all the time. Who knows where life will take me in the next few years. Perhaps there will be a day where I leave my classroom to pursue my dream of taking ReesSpecht Life global, but right now, right here, I am making an impact in others’ lives and that is all I will ever need to consider myself successful. If you have not performed a random act of kindness today, perhaps you can do one that will mean more to someone who impacted your life than you could possibly know: thank a teacher you had that impacted you, or your children. Let them know you recognize their impact on your or your child’s life. ReesSpecht life, always.