“A Teacher Affects Eternity.” Teachers frequently encounter this phrase on shirts, neckties, mugs, spoons, aprons, key chains, hats, hoodies, and even dog outfits. Tina Dyches, associate dean of the McKay School of Education, discussed the origin and the meaning of this phrase in the latest Power of Teaching lecture.
The phrase comes from the journal of Henry Brooks Adams, a descendent of both John Quincy Adams and John Adams. In his journal he wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Adams wrote this comment during a time when he was discouraged as a university teacher; he felt like he was not addressing his students’ needs properly.
Although Adams may have felt like a failure, he may also have a misinterpreted perspective on his teaching due to high goals he expected of himself. One way a teacher affects eternity is by being an example, which Adams was certainly able to do. A teacher teaches someone who then teaches someone else and so on; the pattern continues.
Teachers play a vital role in the development of students. To demonstrate teachers’ impact, Dyches invited the audience to participate in a poll. Those in attendance were asked to text answers to questions like “Why do you want to be a teacher?” and “What do you enjoy about teaching?”
The answers of the audience paralleled answers to a national poll. Most teachers and teacher candidates want to teach because they enjoy working with children; the second most common response was because they want to make a difference. The part of teaching enjoyed most was working with children, followed by “light bulb moments.”
Dyches then had audience participants reflect on teachers they had while growing up. A strong 85 percent of those in attendance could remember the names of more than 12 of their preschool–12th grade teachers.
“Every teacher influenced your life one way or another, but some made a lasting impact on your life,” Dyches said.
Dyches shared experiences she had had with some of her school teachers. One included Mrs. McWhinnie, who challenged Dyches in a spelling bee with the proper noun “Merriweather Worth.”
“She wasn’t going to give me an easy word because she knew she could challenge me,” Dyches said. “She got me out [of the competition], but I learned from the experience to challenge each kid at [his or her] level and make [him or her] rise higher.”
Dyches recalled a moment in which she saw the impact teaching could have. She met with Alex, age two, who has autism and was struggling to learn at the time. Dyches helped his parents set up an individualized education program for him.
Years later Dyches received an invitation to attend Alex’s mission farewell. She was overjoyed not only because Alex had developed the capability to serve a full two-year mission for the Church, but also because she could see his growth through his talk at church and a special musical number he shared.
“How will your teaching affect eternity?” Dyches asked in conclusion. “Go out and make huge differences to [innumerable] people in your life.”
Writer: Lindsey Williams
Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922