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Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. ~Benjamin Franklin

Since this week is teacher appreciation week, I took a moment today to think about and pray for all the teachers that impacted my life, helping me to grow into the person that I am today. No one is a “self-made” person. I realize that many people think they are, but the truth of the matter is that we are all products of our biology and biography.

When I speak in public, my father’s friends hear my dad.

When I play the piano, the inspiration of Keith Green paved the way.

When I write, an army of dead biblio-mentors sing through my words.

So, in more ways than we know, we are products of the investments, good and bad, of other people. Teachers make a sizeable investment into the forging of our lives. Here are a few of the teachers that I thought of today:

1. Mrs. Stein, my first grade teacher. Yes, truly she was my first crush. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The most talented woman in the world. The best at just… everything! Many smitten school-boys would find themselves accidentally hanging out near her house. Luckily for me she lived in the neighborhood. 1st grade is a crucial year. First grade teachers help us become students, little humans, entering into the journey of learning. Thank you Mrs. Stein.

2. Mr. Grady, my 7th – 12th grade band teacher. More than any other teacher, Mr. Grady, or JW as we called him, impacted my life. He was a true renaissance man. He wanted us cultured, savvy, engaged and involved in the music. He challenged me more than any other teacher…forgave me more than any other teacher…frustrated me more than any other teacher…and invested in me more than any other teacher. My continued involvement with music to this day is because of his investment in me. Music has not merely been a thing I do, but truly, a core piece of who I am. Of all the teachers that I have had, he is the one that I hope is proud of who I have become. Thank you Mr. Grady.

3. Ms. Itig, freshman literature teacher. Ok, maybe another slight crush here (you see the pattern right), but, for the first time in my life I developed a love and hunger for reading. It all began with the book “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and today you might say I have a reading addiction. Thank you Ms. Itig.

4. Mr. Kelly, US History and World Civ. teacher. Mr. Kelly was also my church league basketball coach when I was just a little guy, so I thought I would have an easy go of it in his class…not so much. Mr. Kelly was an incredible teacher, and my time with him opened my eyes to justice issues, government structures and problems as well as skills in navigating the civilization in which we live. Mr. Kelly introduced me to Leo Buscaglia who in turn opened up a beautiful concept of love that was beyond my experience. He seemed tough on the outside, but I could tell he cared for all his students. Thank you Mr. Kelly.

The teachers that I remember the most are the ones who went beyond teaching a core curriculum and involved me in something bigger.

Jean Piaget tells us that:

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

Education is so much more than test scores and memorizing data.

It is about the curation of the soul…

It is about the formation of the heart…

It is about the unleashing and expansion of the mind beyond the understanding of the previous generations…

In many ways education is a dance between student and teacher as they discover the music that each bring to the process. In an article titled “Uncommon Core” my friend Steve Peha writes:

Education is a deeply personal endeavor. Just as every learner  is unique, so is every teacher. Educators have many things in common, but at their core each possesses something uncommon: their individuality. What makes us unique can’t easily be defined. But in education, it often has to do with the strengths, affinities, and experiences that educators bring to their work and that students bring to school with them each day.  This is the uncommon core. It’s not just what makes us unique, it’s often what makes us uniquely successful. When we tap our strengths, we find the talent to master our challenges. When we tune our attitudes, we connect with a purpose larger than ourselves. When we turn to our affinities—the things to which we are naturally attracted—we unleash our passions and discover our dreams. (check out his web site teaching that makes sense)

The teachers that make the greatest impact are those who have integrated their passion and their understanding together to create a learning environment. In this sense, the best teachers are artists not just information portals.

The art of teaching is a gift, and can easily be lost when we measure the wrong things. In his book “The Courage To Teach” Parker Palmer notes: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” 

So, to all the teachers out there:

  • Thank you for the long hours you put in most days beyond the contract…
  • Thank you for investing your own money into the lives of your students when the funding doesn’t cover it…
  • Thank you for lovingly caring for a classroom full of kids that lack grace and manners…
  • Thank you for seeing the gold in our children that most people miss…
  • Thank you for creating a world of learning and not just regurgitating the information in the book…
  • Thank you for teaching our kids how to think, not just what to think…
  • Thank you for choosing a career that doesn’t always get many thanks…

This week teachers, may you be reminded of who you are:

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ~Robert Frost

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