I’ve been in the teaching game for 16.5 years if you count my time in student teaching, which I do since I assigned grades to students during the winter and spring of 2001. Over that time, I’ve met a lot of great students. I’d try to list them all here, but inevitably, I’d forget someone, and since I don’t want to do that, I’ll just thank everyone out there who influenced me to be a better teacher or who convinced me that I had something to offer to students by offering me kind words of appreciation. Your influence in my life means more than you will ever know.
It’s been a long ride. Some teaching days were and are better than others, but in the end, those of us who teach feel a calling to do so. In many ways, this is about giving back as were given to in the course of our educational journey. Here, too, I could thank a lot of teachers at both Reading Area Community College and Alvernia University in an individual way, but I don't want to leave people out, so I'll thank all of them collectively (as well as co-workers and bosses).
Recently, I had the opportunity to give back in a huge way, when I sponsored my honor student / independent study student Ashley for her Beacon Conference paper. In late April, we found out that her paper was one of the top 3 papers, which would be invited to present against other 2-year college students from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
After much work and discussion to prepare for all of this, my wife Heather and I went up to SUNY Orange in Middletown, New York (Hudson Valley) to join Team Ashley (she took her husband Wesley up there for moral support as well). On Friday at 1:30, she presented her paper Educating Girls to Eradicate Extreme Poverty. With 20 minutes to present, we talked about how to provide information to express the persuasive nature of the paper, and what we came out with was something spectacular.
I knew where the beginning was going as it detailed the true life story of a very young girl who Ashley befriended when she did her own missions work in Guatemala. It was a very even keel speech, detailing the friendship of a young nurse with a child she influenced. As a big sister, she looked after the girl while providing her hope and values as well as the idea that she could be anything she wanted in life. Unfortunately, at 14, the girl was married to a much older man, despite Ashley's protests and redirections.
Since there was nothing she could do to stop this tragedy, the ramifications of this incident broke Ashley’s heart, but it wasn’t the end for the girl’s life. That would come 2 years later at age 16, when she was viciously murdered (beheaded and gutted). Told in a matter of fact and exact way, this “heart-wrenching” event tore at the fiber of everyone. I knew what was coming, and I still cried.
The rest of the paper went on from there. As a means to a PURPOSE (one word defines everyone’s life, according to writer, videographer, and entrepreneur Evan Carmichael; the key is to find yours), this event brought meaning to her destiny through her GENUINE nature through COMPASSION and DRIVE. With FAITH, she spoke to the audience about why teaching young girls in the developing world offers hope and possibility. She shows how simple education, even only on a first grade level, can change lives.
As a true freshman with limited public speaking experience, she wasn’t as polished and "professional" as her main competitor (the difference was slight, but he went TED talks and shined), but she made up for this in responding to the questions. When asked “devil’s advocate” style if she thought this could make a difference in the world, she responded, “I’d like to try.”
Best answer of the day.
Listening to the judge’s comments 2 hours later, it was clear that he was truly impressed since hers was the longest compliment and the best paper of the bunch!
As a proud coach waiting for the verdict, all I could do was give her a high five and tell her, “You’re awesome!” as we walked up to both get our certificates.
When it was over, the 4 of us conferred to the achievement and how she didn’t believe it.
“It was that good.”
It’s now 3 days later, and there’s still a sense of awesomeness in her achievement. Both in exemplifying her learning experience and validating my mentoring, this moment just feels like “we did it!”
Here’s to the good things in life!
Some of Ashley’s mission work stories are here. I encourage you to read and follow her work.
My story of how I became a teacher is here.