Striving for Greatness

Written by Mrs. Denning, Upper Team Teacher

“The greatest individuals who attain the highest forms of achievement in life don’t sprint toward success, but significance. They don’t run races, build businesses, raise kids, and live lives for themselves; they do these things to make a difference for others. They hold hands, move hearts, give love, and impact lives.” -John O’Leary
 

I love this quote, and I’d like to think that I’m living the life of a “great” individual. Since childhood I envisioned myself as a supportive and encouraging wife and mother. Then I began working at Horizon in 2004 as a teacher assistant, and I instantly bonded with the students and with the school. I marveled at Mr. Fritsch’s manner with his class of 9 boys and secretly dubbed him the “kid whisperer.” I indeed identified him as a “great” man, and I have since done my best to emulate his example.
 

That said, I have to admit this has been a difficult year for me. On August 15th, a few hours before parents arrived for our Back to School Night, and the day before the start of the new school year, I was given a pathology report that indicated the presence of breast cancer. I left the doctor’s office that day with 5 more appointments set with 3 different specialists, and the knowledge that I’d also have to schedule several weeks of radiation. I was never particularly worried about my health; instead, my thoughts went to, “How am I supposed to fit all this in AND be the “great” teacher I aim to be?
 

Incredibly, the months flew by and I managed to get through appointments and treatments, while continuing to plan lessons, grade papers, study O. G. materials, and meet various deadlines. On the home front I occasionally eked in some chores, as well. I did what I had to do, but definitely not with the “greatness” that I had hoped.
 

With a longer school day, medication that makes me sleepy (and moody), follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and more deadlines, I still struggle to do more than just get by. How am I to make a positive impact on others’ lives, particularly those in my home and work families?
 

This just may not be my “greatest” year in regard to lifting others up or making a difference in their lives. However, this may be the year I’ve most experienced the greatness of others. There have been so many things that have touched me and encouraged me, there’s no way I can list them all. My brother’s Tuesday night phone calls, simple chores done by my husband and son, and messages from my daughter are but a few that I can recall.
 

Greatness and love hasn’t just shown up in my personal life; it has shone through at Horizon as well. Younger staff with small children are successfully managing the difficult task of balancing work and family life. Colleagues are eager to share wisdom and resources, mentoring others in their areas of expertise. Maybe even greater are the notes and words of encouragement among the staff. The support among colleagues at Horizon is so empowering!
 

And it’s not just the adults. Our students, the ones who I strive to be “great” for, demonstrate greatness every day. I defy anyone to spend a day in my classroom and leave feeling downtrodden. I am greeted enthusiastically each morning, given fist bumps, and told me such gems as, “I think of you just like family, Mrs. Denning.” I see greatness in the way students treat each other, as well. They are the kind of people who jump up to help when someone drops or spills something, and they are quick to come to someone’s aid when they are hurting.
 

Students have also given me numerous heart-warming notes and gifts this year, including
drawings, hand-made crafts, and yummy chocolates. This doesn’t even begin to cover all the great things my students have done for me or others. They uplift me in some way every day.
 

Very recently my students also exhibited greatness by working together to help others. On March 31st my class, along with Mr. McConnell’s, served at City Union Mission’s food warehouse and were given the tasks of cleaning and organizing. Each student jumped to task, working diligently until it was finished. I don’t remember a single word of complaint the entire day.
 

While my experience hasn’t magically made me a better person, or made others great, it definitely opened my eyes to the greatness that has been there all along.