Limits

Often times we say, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good at that.”  (I am as guilty of this as anyone.  There’s a lot I sometimes believe I can’t do.)

When we say the words, “I can’t,” we are limiting ourselves.  As a result, I believe that some of the most damaging words in our language are “I can’t.” 

When we say we can’t, we make our own lives poorer – not richer.  When we say we can’t, we eliminate the possibilities and the learning that comes with and from new experiences.  When we say we can’t, our world becomes smaller, our interests become fewer, and we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

When we do this to ourselves, we limit ourselves.  And that’s a shame. 

One might argue that the limits we place on ourselves as adults comes from a lifetime of experiences.  One could argue that we say, “I can’t” because there are times when we positively absolutely cannot do certain things.

(I always wished I was handy.  There was a period in my life where I tried to fix things around the house.  When I did this, I often didn’t really know what I was doing.  I usually had the wrong tools.  I always asked the wrong questions.  I typically made a big mess.  Sometimes I’d hurt myself.  As often as not, if I could get things back together at all, I would put them back together backwards. 

My efforts to make things better resulted, ultimately, in making them worse.  I broke things.  I got frustrated.  I got angry.  A job that was supposed to take five minutes would take me an hour.  After the hour, with parts and tools all over the place, I’d finally have to give up and all of this usually resulted in a call to my father-in-law to have him come over and fix whatever it was I had broken and made worse.

As a result, maybe today when I see something broken and I say, “I can’t fix that,” I’m actually being realistic.  Maybe.  But while what I posited above still rinks true, by giving up, by not trying, by saying, “I can’t,” I am putting limits on myself.  I am weaker for it.  Every time.

I also have to recognize that for all of the times I have failed on the Home Repair Circuit, there have been some success stories along the way.  I have fixed things.  I have even built things. 

But, by and large, I’m better at breaking things…)

Still, the truth is, with effort… We Can! 

With focus, we can.  With determination, we can.  (A wise man once said Impossible is an Illusion.”)

We can really do anything. 

But, more than this being about us, it is about the children we work with every day.  Knowing what we know, we should never, ever, ever put limits on kids.

Just because a child can’t do something now, doesn’t mean that that child won’t be able to do it in the future.

To illustrate this point, I shared the following true story on Back-to-School Night last week with the parents of my school:

There was a little boy growing up who liked football, but never played the game. Finally, as a high school freshman, he went out for the team.  At that school, only two kids tried out for quarterback.  He was one of the two kids.  He made the team, but only as the back-up.

The team had a poor season.  They went 0-8.  They didn’t win a game.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  The team didn’t score any touchdowns – the entire season.  None.  Zero.  The team wasn’t bad; it was legendarily bad.

The coach thought so little of that back-up quarterback that he didn’t play at all the entire season.  On a team that never won, and never even reached the end zone, the back-up quarterback was deemed not good enough to play.

When that kid went out for football his sophomore year, he made the team as the starter!  No, it wasn’t that he became miraculously great.  The truth is, the starting quarterback from the previous season decided not to play the next year.  He got the job by default.

After playing high school ball, and having some success, this kid went to the University of Michigan where he was the #7 quarterback on the depth chart well behind better players who were recruited by the school.  These players were all more talented, more polished, stronger, and faster than this kid.

Still, the player believed in himself – even if no one else did.  The world might have said, “You can’t,” but this kid was special, he didn’t believe it.  He thought, “I can!”

By his sophomore year, he leapfrogged some those other players and was competing for the starting job at quarterback.  He fell short though and appeared in only four games.

In his junior year, this player started every game and won 10 of the final 11 games, but, even with that, he was pushed for the starting job his senior year by a hotshot sophomore.  Instead of giving the job to the senior, the coach hedged his bet and rotated between the two quarterbacks for much of the season, until the player we have been discussing, played so phenomenally that he was made the starter.  It was a reluctant promotion.

In this player’s last game in college, he led Michigan to an impressive victory in the Orange Bowl.

The next step in this player’s journey was the NFL Draft…

Most people still said, “He can’t.”

The Michigan coach received only one call from an NFL team about his quarterback.

At the NFL Draft Combine (an event where the players demonstrate their skill and athleticism under the watchful eyes of scouts and executives), this player had the worse ever time in the 40-yard dash.  He didn’t stand out.  He left no lasting impression.

The pre-draft scouting report on this player said, among other things, that the player had a “poor build,” that he “lacks strength and mobility,” and that, because of his poor arm, he “can’t drive the ball downfield.”

In the NFL Draft, this player wasn’t chosen in the first round. 

He also wasn’t chosen in the second round.  Or the third, or fourth, or fifth rounds.

He was, eventually, chosen in the 6th round.  He was the 199th pick.  Six quarterbacks were chosen before him.

No one seemed to have any belief in this player.

Except for the coach of the New England Patriots.  This player went to that team and was the 4th quarterback on the depth chart.  He sat on the bench his entire first professional season.

In his second season, an injury to the starting quarterback gave him his chance.  He never looked back.

This player who no NFL team seemed to want, who seemed to lack all the requisite skills to succeed in professional football, who didn’t have his coach’s confidence even as a college senior, who didn’t even begin playing the game until he was in high school…is Tom Brady.

Tom Brady, the ONLY quarterback in NFL history to start seven Super Bowls.

Tom Brady, the ONLY quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

Tom Brady, who ranks in the top four all time in passing yards, completions, touchdowns, and so many other areas, was the ultimate “I can’t” person.

They thought he couldn’t.  There were times along the way when he didn’t.

And, yet, he did.

Today, Tom Brady is considered by most experts as the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.

Who says “Can’t”?

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The Houston Astros and You!

(The following is a modified (slightly shortened and less school specific) version of the message I sent to my teaching staff as we begin to prepare for the opening of the 2017-18 school year in a few weeks.  The message applies to all individuals in all walks of life and all professions.)

When I was a child growing up in the late 1970’s, the Houston Astros had very cool uniforms. 

I was a Yankees fan (that is deep-seated in my blood), but there were times when I wished the Yankees could at least be a little more colorful.  I, of course, love the Yankees’ midnight blue pinstripes and the interlocking NY, but for a kid, that Astros rainbow uniform was a lot more eye-catching!

The Astros also were also a pretty unique team.  They played in the only domed stadium (The Astrodome), they played on fake grass (Astroturf), they had exciting players like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, and Cesar Cedeno (pictured above).  The Astros were even featured in one of the Bad News Bears movies!

None of that influenced me enough to be an Astros fan, but it is undeniable that there was a certain appeal to rooting for the Houston Astros. 

Continue reading “The Houston Astros and You!”

Running Currahee

Ever since my son Ryan had the same thought I did for an activity during our visit to see him in Georgia (“Three miles up, three miles down…”), I had been thinking of running Currahee Mountain.

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Currahee Mountain is the (extremely) large hill that was used as a (very difficult) physical fitness activity at Camp Toccoa during the early stages of paratrooper training during World War II.  The stories of the training, and the success of the troops, has been immortalized in the book and HBO miniseries Band of Brothers which tells the story of Easy Company from the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne.

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Our Words Matter, Always.

The words we use matter, always.  

When we offer kindness, love, and support, we build people up.

When we are critical, or unkind, or mean, the words we deliver bring people down.  

On the pages of my blog, in educational journals, and in other forums, I have often shared stories of how kind words make a positive difference.  It happens all of the time.

When I run races, especially marathons, the words of encouragement shouted from the spectators makes an absolute difference in my mental state and my performance.  When people call out, “You look great” or “You can do it!” I believe them – sincerely and absolutely.  Positive words from people I don’t know and will never meet have helped me in each of my twenty marathons.

Just yesterday I was playing softball in the league I compete in.  I was fortunate, I had a good day.  It seemed that every ball hit to me at shortstop, I handled cleanly.  Each time, my teammates shouted, “Great play” or “Paul, you’re doing super today.”  The confidence from my teammates helped to make me have more confidence in myself, and, as a result, I played better.  

Words matter.  Absolutely.  Always.

A while back, I wrote a column titled Newton, Autographs, and the Teacher.  (That essay is contained in my new book Impossible is an Illusion.) In that passage, I wrote the following:

“I sometimes sit in awe of the tremendous power a teacher possesses – the tremendous impact that a teacher has on a child’s self-image now – and in the future. A teacher can use his autograph, the imprint he leaves on a child, to change a life. The positive words teachers leave inspire children to work harder, to give more, and to always strive to be their better selves.”

And, while I sincerely believe all of that to be true, I think, sometimes, we forget the impact we have on others and the simple fact that our own words matter.  It’s easy to point out how other people have brought us up or down, but it’s more difficult to examine when we have a similar impact on others.  (After all, I didn’t say to my teammates, “Keep telling me how good I am, it’ll make me even better.”  All I did was smile and give high fives and fist bumps – and hope that I would continue to catch everything hit my way.  Similarly, in a marathon, I don’t stop when people cheer for me.  I never go back to the spectator to say, “Your kind words are helping me through the race.”)

But, sometimes, out of the blue, a word is said, a card arrives in the mail, or an e-mail comes through that reminds us of our impact on others.  Again, I think this is especially true for teachers and other educators because our words impact on the people who are the future.  By providing support, kindness, affirmation, and even love, educators can help to shape a positive world and a positive future.  

I was reminded of this fact just the other day when I received the following message in my e-mail:

Good afternoon Dr. Semendinger,
I am not sure if you remember me, but I was a student of yours in the Seminar Class at William Paterson in the Spring Semester of 2014. 
After a rough experience with my cooperating teacher during my student teaching, I took some time off to do some reflecting on where I wanted to head career wise.  While I was cleaning off my desk, I found a paper I wrote for your class and you wrote “always be the positive difference in the classroom.”  At that moment I realized I shouldn’t let a bad experience ruin my dream of becoming a teacher. 
This past school year I took a paraprofessional aide job at my former middle school to help me become acclimated again in an educational environment.  It was by far the best decision I have ever made!  I was an in-class support aide, filled a maternity leave position, got recommended for a tutoring job, and even chaperoned numerous field trips.  Most importantly I found my passion again that I was missing!
Thank you for your time and everything you have done for me.
With sincerity,
(A Former Student)

I taught this student over three years ago.  It wasn’t yesterday…

But my words mattered.

Absolutely.

And it was only eight words.  Eight.  That’s all I wrote.  I didn’t write a paragraph.  I didn’t write even ten words.  I wrote eight.  And yet, those words made a difference to this former student.  A huge difference.  In a way, I helped to change a life.  In a bigger way, as this former student becomes a teacher who hopefully spreads kindness and a positive message, those eight words will influence many more people.

This is the power that good can bring.  It is the impact of kindness.  It is what truly matters.

Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

As educators, our biggest job is helping our students learn to believe in themselves.  Our job is to build up others.  We need to encourage.  We need to support.  We need to set the highest standards.  We need to be kind.  We need to love…  

These are the simple elements that truly make a difference.  

And so…

As we plan lessons, and programs…

As we design assessment tools and grading formulas…

As we create curriculum and input data into on-line programs…

We must never forget that our most important job as educators is to reach the hearts of our students.  We must bring passion to our classrooms.  We must look to the good.  

And we must never forget that our words matter – and as such, we must use them, today and every day, to build others up in a meaningful way.

One Day Yankee – Floyd Newkirk

(This passage comes from my upcoming book, “The Least Among Them,” a unique and original history of the New York Yankees.  The manuscript is in the editing stage.  Literary agents and/or publishers interested in learning more about this project are encouraged to reach me at drpaulsem AT hotmail dot com.)

Mordecai Brown was an ace pitcher on the Chicago Cubs teams that dominated baseball in the earliest days of the Twentieth Century.  Brown won twenty or more games in six consecutive seasons between 1906 and 1911.  One of baseball’s great pitchers, Mordecai Brown won 239 games.  He was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 1949.  But none of that is why he is remembered today…

As a youngster, Mordecai lost one finger and damaged another during an accident with a feed chopper on a farm.  It was because of these “deformities,” that he became known as “Three Finger” Brown.  Many believed that the unique grip he had on a baseball contributed to his success. But Mordecai Brown was not baseball’s only three-fingered pitcher.

In 1934, the New York Yankees had a prospect named Floyd Newkirk.  Like the great “Three Finger” Brown, Newkirk had only three fingers on his pitching hand.  Like Brown, Floyd lost his two fingers in a childhood accident of his own.  Also like Brown, the injury did not dissuade Floyd Newkirk from playing, and ultimately achieving success, through pitching a baseball.

Continue reading “One Day Yankee – Floyd Newkirk”

Book Review: Patrick Henry by Jon Kukla

When one thinks of colonial America, the American Revolutionary period, and the birth of this nation, many great names come to mind.  Among these, of course, are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and, George Washington. Stories of America’s founding fathers and brothers abound.  All of these men, and so many others were instrumental in the birth of our country.  Sometimes, the legends of these men outshine the other patriots and influential members of society who also played an important role throughout these important periods.  One such often overlooked giant of the time period was Patrick Henry.

Continue reading “Book Review: Patrick Henry by Jon Kukla”

Currahee!

It was the day before Fathers’ Day.  With the school year winding down, and summer beckoning, I found a few moments of quiet respite in my home.  For the first time, in a very long time, I felt myself relaxing.  Calmness and peace, two emotions I don’t experience often, were not as far away as they normally are.

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Impossible is an Illusion!

My book of motivational, inspirational, and (sometimes) funny essays is now available on Amazon and other book retailers.

If you enjoy my blog writing, you will certainly enjoy this book.

The feedback has been tremendously positive.

Please take a look!

Impossible is an Illusion by Dr. Paul Semendinger