Students are the reason there are teachers. It is the ultimate goal to get information and skills into their heads. They have so many backgrounds that this can be the great challenge. Confucius was said to be the consummate teacher because he would individualize his instruction to every student based on what that student needed. There is certainly a huge amount of reward from getting to know students better. They are everything, and the simplicity of an aha moment or the gravity of honest confidence in you can be a great, intangible reward.
They are clever. They are smart. They are creative. They are kind, and can show and embody so many of the great aspects of the world. They are a legacy and a goal. Your life will have been worth it if you can reach even one student on a profound level and change their life for the better.
The enthusiasm a student takes for a subject you teach is a feeling of victory, and their achievements are wonders. It is a pride to see them take what you have offered and gone further with it, but it is equally rewarding to see a student make positive strides in their life using the tools you have given. This is neither selfish nor entirely selfless in its joy. It is a simple handing off of knowledge, the most precious of treasures in the world. The students take that knowledge and build upon the world in their own unique ways, and that is where the reward comes into play.
Their varied backgrounds teach you so much more about the world and people. There are students who have to overcome all of the challenges. There are students that you wish their families would adopt you. There are students you get along with and clash with. There are students who learn easily and quickly and those that fight for every single fact they have to acquire. Their potential is impressive.
It is neat to get to know students and see them grow up. It is a pleasure to see their achievements in all areas, and it is a reward when they share them with you. It is an honor to find similar interests as students outside of the subject you teach, or to see them emulate you, or to see them take to an activity you would never have thought of. They become more and more interesting as individuals with every year, and you can be happy you were a part of that process.
I have had the privilege to teach at a school where you spend many years with the same students. Each new group is nervous and excited. They progress through the trials you give them and they overcome the challenges. Their enjoyment of the subject grows with overcoming those challenges. Having them for so many years takes you from the basics to advanced concepts. You can actually see their brains improve and change as the conversations and experiences you talk about change. You watch a student move steadily from waist-height to looking you in the eye. You can build on the relationship to extend from simply teacher-student, to advisor-mentee, to respected individuals, to even friends. The relationship is not family. It is not and will never be lover. It is that of going from instructor to peer.
There is a much more obvious handing over of trust to the student as you move from knowing all and they nothing (fictitious in that knowing all is simply knowing somewhat. You discover so much more about subjects through teaching and interacting with students than you could ever study). Then, they begin to acquire skills. Things that were so hard become commonplace and eventually easy. New knowledge and skills build upon these, and as a teacher you have to let go of the reins of power and marvel at how well students handle the subject and new challenges. To have a person point out that a student is a mini-you is the most flattering of all praise. To see a student actually go out, equipped for the world is a great hope. To know that they will accomplish more than you ever could with your own hands is a victory.