Do you ever struggle as to whether you make a difference in the lives of your students? “Make a Difference.” It is the Imperative of my life. But I struggle deeply with whether I am making a difference. I am often anxious as to whether it is the successful Narrative of my life, and lately the struggle has been dead-centered on my teaching efforts. After all, how can I know if I am making a difference in the lives of my students in the long run? Anxiety and struggle represent the outcome of my dubious and abstract success metrics that try to look far into the future and deep into the heart.
In her first experience as a teacher, prior to developing her educational philosophy and founding the House of Education, Charlotte Mason struggled with whether she was making a difference in the lives of her students.
“Some years ago, I was accustomed to hear, ‘Habit is TEN natures,’ delivered from the pulpit on at least one Sunday out of four. I had at the time just begun to teach, and was young and enthusiastic in my work. It was to my mind a great thing to be a teacher; it was impossible but that the teacher should leave his stamp on the children. His own was the fault if anything went wrong, if any child did badly in school or out of it. There was no degree of responsibility to which youthful ardour was not equal. But, all this zeal notwithstanding, the disappointing thing was, that nothing extraordinary happened. The children were good on the whole, because they were the children of parents who had themselves been brought up with some care; but it was plain that they behaved very much as ‘’twas their nature to.’ The faults they had, they kept; the virtues they had were exercised just as fitfully as before. The good, meek little girl still told fibs. The bright, generous child was incurably idle. In lessons it was the same thing; the dawdling child went on dawdling, the dull child became no brighter. It was very disappointing. The children, no doubt, ‘got on’—a little; but each one of them had the makings in her of a noble character, of a fine mind, and where was the lever to lift each of these little worlds? Such a lever there must be. This horse-in-a-mill round of geography and French, history and sums, was no more than playing at education; for who remembers the scraps of knowledge he labored over as a child? and would not the application of a few hours in later life effect more than year’s drudgery at any one subject in childhood? If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small tasks which goes by the name.
Home Education (98)
Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and method are the results of her extensive inquiry into how to effect real growth in students, to make a difference in their lives.
As I have considered how to move away from anxiety over whether I am making a difference, I am going to engage more with a practical resource from ASI: the Reports of Growth. The Reports of Growth measure Maturity Traits, Relationships with Content-Based Knowledge and Relationships with Skill-Based Knowledge. They are to be completed at the end of each semester for each student. As an introduction to the Reports of Growth, ASI states,
“Growth is the fulfillment of living things. It is what is intended for us as human persons. Physical growth is seen through height and weight differentiation; whereas, intellectual growth, spiritual growth, and relational growth are seen through changes in behavior and thinking. They result in skill development, in the ability to talk and write about a subject, and in the pursuit of further knowledge.”
The Reports of Growth help the teacher to carefully assess changes in behavior and thinking in students based on meaningful evaluation criteria that can be seen on a daily basis and are important for each student in the long run, such as engagement with living ideas, joy in growth and relationships in the classroom, and submission to habit training. Whereas in past years I only turned my attention to the Reports at the end of the semester, I am going to become very familiar with the Reports of Growth prior to the end of each semester as a way to help guide my efforts and thoughts throughout the semester. I encourage you to do the same.
Through faithfully applying Ms. Mason’s educational philosophy and method, and utilizing the practical resources offered by ASI, I have a sense of how to make a difference in the lives of my students – a sense of vocation beautifully expressed by one of the teachers trained under Charlotte Mason herself:
“I think none of us left without the sense of a vocation. ‘I have a life to give.’ Teaching was to be a mission carrying the breath of life to God’s children, going out ‘two and two’ with the mothers of our children to labour in God’s vineyard – not looking for results or rewards or for the praise of man but praying for our children that they ‘might increase’ even as we ‘decrease.’”
 Mason, Charlotte. Home Education, (98).
 Cholmondley, Essex. The Story of Charlotte Mason, (75).