In every person's life, there is a human who made a positive impact so profound... that they will never forget them. Think of yours. Go ahead... close your eyes... and bring to mind the ONE person who stands out the most. The one who championed you at some point in your life to help you recognize your best self.
Maybe it was a parent or grandparent. Maybe a teacher or coach. Perhaps it was your neighbor. I hope we are all lucky enough to have at least one person come to mind quickly.
For me, it was a teacher. Since we just celebrated "Teacher Appreciation Week," I have spent some time lately thinking about my champion. The person who left a lasting impression on my life. The person who never gave up on me. The person who believed in me at a very rough time in my young life.
It is actually one of my most favorite stories to tell. Especially since I had the opportunity to share these feelings decades later with the very person who made me feel this way.
As I became a teacher myself, I was fortunate enough to be hired to work in the exact elementary school I attended as a child. I was also lucky enough that the teacher I am referring to was still working in that same building all these years later.
His classroom was my peace and calm. My sanctuary away from the craziness I lived at home. He warmly welcomed us students as if we were truly one big, happy family. I remember his room to be a democracy. He never ever made decisions for learning without consulting us students for our opinions first.
I recall a very vivid example of this.
The principal had visited our classroom to deliver a box. Inside of the box were samples of potential new science textbooks from various publishing companies. My teacher was told to take a look at them and to get back to the office on which one he'd like to adopt as the new curriculum for the following school year.
As soon as the principal left the classroom, my teacher asked us all to stop what we were doing and to join him at the round table. We had all overheard the conversation so we knew exactly what was inside that box. He began taking out the hard covered textbooks and spreading them about the table. He then said something to this effect: “I am just a teacher. It's not important for me to be drawn to the book. It's important for you to be drawn to the book. I want you students to take a good chunk of time passing these books around to one another. Read the words and check out all of the illustrations. Figure out which one feels comfortable to you as a third grader. In a little while, we will come together for discussion and vote on which one we think will serve us best.”
And that is exactly what we did. He submitted the choice we students had agreed upon.
The more he talked, the more I fell in love with him. Not in a romantic, crush kind of way. More of a paternal, parenting kind of way. His ways of interacting with students were mind-blowing to me. I had never felt that my opinions or ideas mattered whatsoever until I entered through the doors of his classroom. This man was the first person to show me that I really do contribute to the world, even as a third grader. He taught me the power of my growth and contributions.
I knew that I would someday make that same impact on a child. I would provide a safe haven at school for a student just like me. The kind of classroom where children could learn and blossom while forgetting the horrors and secrets of home life.
One of the very first tasks I had when entering my college teaching program was to write an essay. The essay instructions were to recall the best and worst teachers I had ever had. It didn't take any thought at all. They were both visually in my mind in an instant. I scribbled a t-chart on my paper and got to work creating two lists before beginning the essay. There was no doubt that my third grade teacher was going to get the accolades he deserved here. These words and memories would be recalled easily and joyfully.
And who knew, that many years later, I would be hired as a teacher to work along side him. It was a no-brainer that when he retired a short time later, they asked me to prepare his retirement speech. I graciously accepted and said yes. I grew up in small town USA. So a good handful of the teachers I had for middle school and high school were still in their same teaching positions. The event was to be held at a waterfront hotel. He and a couple other retirees would be honored in front of about 200 or so of their teaching colleagues.
I can say with certainty, that delivering the speech that evening, is to date one of the most gratifying moments of my entire life. You see, in that crowd was not only the best teacher I ever had. But also the worst. My speech opened by telling the story of my task at college that first day. And you bet I said the words out loud... “Ironically, they are both in here in the crowd today.” The room gasped. I stated that “I won’t spend time talking about what makes a horrible teacher. Instead, I want to tell about what attributes you will find in the best teacher in the world."
I share this story with you because every single person in the world has the opportunity to be a champion for another human being. You do not have to be a teacher to fill this position. You have to be a believer. You have to be a cheerleader. Most importantly, you have to know the power of your words and actions in the eyes and heart of another.
Who have you been a champion for? A niece or nephew? A neighbor’s child? Someone on a team you coach? Perhaps someone you are training at work. Take the time to know your impact. Make a difference.
I would like to thank my third grade teacher, Carmen Messina, once again for being mine. You are the very reason I became a teacher and I will never forget how you made me feel.
Take a few moments to watch this Ted Talk where Rita Pearson nails what it means to be a champion! One of my favorites!