I worked with a LBJ magnet student in his AP Calculus class this past year. I began working with him towards the end of the previous year. Two weeks prior to the end of the first semester, I received an E-mail message from his mother who was worried that he would fail the course. I started working with him several days later to prepare him for his final examination; I helped him review his previous test questions and review problems over the next several days. At semester's end, his mother E-mailed me to mention that he passed the six-week term with a low B and the semester with a low C. I was rather pleased with this, and it was quite an accomplishment considering that the previous six-week periods were not terribly stellar. This student was not dim; he simply needed a self-confidence boost and someone to teach him the material with compassion and patience. His instructor provided somewhat inadequate instruction, and this contributed majorly to his initially low marks and poor performance.
I continued working with him weekly to bi-weekly through the spring term, and he made remarkable progress and improvement. He managed to go from near-failing grades to mostly B's on his tests and quizzes (and managed to score several A's along the way). However, his greatest accomplishment was his AP Calculus test score (I helped him prepare for that test during the final two to three weeks of the term). I received an E-mail from his mother and found out that he earned a perfect score (a 5) on the AP Calculus test. He and his mother were both quite pleased; I was rather overjoyed myself. He credited his success to my help, but he actually was the one who deserved the credit. He stayed and chartered the course and worked hard, and it paid off rather handsomely for him. I can honestly say that he was the best client that I have had to date. He worked as a summer intern for a local design firm and is interested in pursuing an architectural career; his math skills will certainly serve him well in that field.
Say what you will about teaching being a thankless job financially, but it has a reward that is much greater than any salary can ever justify. Taking the time to care and to encourage a student to achieve his or her academic goals and reach his or her potential is payment both in and of itself. Accomplishing this for even one student makes what teachers do so worthwhile and gives an amazing feeling of doing his or her job remarkably well. Students make the journey, but teachers show the way.