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Virginia Journal of Education

How I Define Success

by Johnny J. Moye

Success matters! As teachers, we want to be successful to ensure the success of our students. The whole reason we teach is to offer our students the knowledge they need to be successful, to make a good living (and life) for themselves and to make positive contributions to our society. Nowadays, there are all sorts of standards to measure student success, and there are measures to gauge the success of schools and school districts. Then there are teacher evaluation instruments used to determine if a teacher is successful in addressing everything on those checklists. I realize all of that, but how do I really measure my success in reaching my students? Sure, there are publications and articles that tell me what I should do in order to become a successful teacher, but how do I really feel about my performance? Am I successful? What is success, anyway?

I'd like to talk about some of the things that have convinced me that I am at least partially successful as a secondary educator. Incidentally, the things that I will mention have played a large role in my decision to continue in my profession as a teacher. Being an effective, and therefore successful, educator is difficult. As my fellow teachers read this, hopefully you too will count your blessings and remember that we provide our students with more education than just whatever our subject area happens to be. We are examples. Our daily actions, both in and out of the classroom, provide students with examples of character, professionalism and assorted life skills. What they learn from us will affect them for the rest of their lives.

So here are some of the ways that I measure success:

I feel that I'm successful when a student asks me to explain one of my analogies.

I felt successful once when a guest speaker came to my Geospatial Technology class to speak about job opportunities in that field and asked the students why they took the class. In almost perfect harmony, they said, "Because it's Mr. Moye's class." Hey, that's success!

Success is reading what students have written in my yearbook and not seeing one negative entry. More specifically, I was very humbled after reading what one student wrote: "Mr. Moye, this class has been an incredible experience. The things I learned and experienced here will remain with me forever. Thank you, AM." A crusty old teacher humbled by a student's feelings-that's success.

We teachers must push our students to achieve success. Sometimes we push them to the point to where they want to quit. However, sometimes we then get to watch them walk up on stage to accept their trophy for winning or placing in a competitive event. The trophy she or he holds is an indication of their success. After accepting their award, they come back to their seats, trophies in hand and, wearing an ear-to-ear smile, look me in the eyes. That's my success.

Sometimes success is very subtle and occurs when a really quiet student smiles and says "thank you."

I feel successful after negotiating with a student who doesn't want to do his work but says, "I'll do it for you."

I am successful because I don't write very many referrals to the office (four in the past four years). But the real success was when one student returned from the office and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Moye, we're good" (translation: I am not mad at you for writing me the referral).

Success is beginning to understand teenage lingo and realizing that being called "dog" isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Success is asking students to go take a picture of their favorite teacher to feature in our morning television announcements and they reply "You are my favorite teacher, Mr. Moye."

Success is when school counselors ask me, "What are you doing in your classes that make so many kids want to take them?"

I feel successful when a student says, "I tried to get into your class but it was already full."

Success is when students come visit me in my classroom, hall pass in hand, to ask me about my classes.

Success is being firm with students and finding that they seem to like me for it.

Success is reading a student response to a survey question asking: "Why did you take this course?", and seeing, "Because I love you, Mr. Moye." I think my students realize that I love them too!

Success is realizing when the work I normally assign students is not challenging enough for a particular student, providing him with real difficult tasks that I have not yet figured out on my own, and watching him do them.

Success is attending academic achievement awards night and seeing many of my students there.

Success is when students congratulate me when I receive awards.

I feel successful when the city Christmas parade stops because my students stop to talk to me along the edge of the route. I have to tell them "On Dasher, on Blitzen..."

Success is when former students come visit me just before our school lets out for the winter holiday break and give me a hug (even some of the guys).

I feel successful because many times I genuinely miss my students during breaks.

Success is seeing my students around town and finding that they are excited to see me. Then, after introducing my wife, they have good things to say.

When my students see me out in town and introduce me to their parents, I feel successful when the parents say, "Oh, you're Mr. Moye - I've heard a lot of good things about you."

Success is when my former students take off their hats or hoods when I meet them out in town. Who knows how many times I had to tell them to do so while in school.

Success is seeing students at the school football game and they want to hang out with me-of course, just for 60 seconds or less.

Sometimes I don't feel successful but an indication of my attempt is when a parent tells me, "Thank you for not giving up on him-he loves you and he listens to you."

I feel successful when students ask me to write them college and scholarship recommendations. I feel even more successful when they tell me that they have been admitted to the college or have received the scholarship.

Success is when former students come to visit me after their military basic training and tell me that I influenced them to go into the military (I am a 27-year U.S. Navy veteran).

I feel successful when I teach my students something that we in the older generation consider to be normal or common sense. For example, when a student asked me, "Where is the special paper that I am supposed to use?", I replied, "Right in front of you - if it was a snake it would have bitten you." The student then said, "I've never heard that saying before." Wow, I thought everyone knew that one!

This one is rather unusual, but I once came upon an accident on an icy road. The car was smoking and in a deep ditch. Three students couldn't get out, so I pulled them to safety and stayed until their parents arrived. The next time I saw the young lady who drove the car was six months later at our high school commencement ceremony. When she hugged me tight, cried on my shoulder and repeatedly said "Thank you, you saved my life," that was my measure of success. I don't think I actually saved her life, but she was very moved by my actions - which moved me.

If it's not apparent, I love what I do. I not only teach my students technology but I teach them how a professional, middle-aged man should act. I am very firm but also very compassionate to student needs.

Like most other teachers, I'm not into all of that "instant gratification" stuff. I realize that it takes time to see the fruits of my labor and that I will never realize many (or even most) of my students' successes. I just have to continue what I'm doing and take these little measures of success as indicators that I am making progress in teaching and facilitating student learning.

I don't have to tell other teachers that it is not always easy being a teacher and that we're not always successful. But we plug away at it anyway. I'm happy to see that my school district and school are doing well with all of the measures of success that they must face. I'm happy to receive positive feedback on my teacher evaluations. But I measure success by all the little things that my students give me on a daily basis. Those little things tell me that I have had a positive influence on them and that they will take a part of me with them as they go out in the big old world. Ah, success!

Moye ( ), a member of the Chesapeake Education Association, teaches technology education at Hickory High School. He's currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Education at Old Dominion University. In February, at the International Technology Education Association's annual conference, he received the 2008 Pitsco/Hearlihy/FTE Grant award for "excellence in teaching technology and integrating the school curriculum."



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