(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.
I assume many of these factors made some kids grow up to be fans of the Astros.
In fact, I know it was some of those factors that led at least one kid, Pete Van Vleet, now an adult, to become an Astros fan as he is quoted in an article from The Washington Post:
But, unlike most fans who grow-up and then brainwash their own children into rooting for the same team they did, this father was different. Pete Van Vleet wanted his baby son Jack son to have a choice in the team he’d root for throughout his life. And, in order to do this, he came up with a brilliant idea!
Pete Van Vleet wrote a letter to every single Major League baseball team. In the letter, Van Vleet asked each team why his son should be a fan. He asked, “Why should Jack’s favorite team be yours?”
As part of the letter Van Vleet also wrote, “Friends may come and go…but one’s team is one’s team. Forever.”
He closed with, “So, this is your chance to have a fan for life.”
The responses from the various teams have been varied and quite interesting. Some teams sent personal letters to Jack. One team sent vouchers for free tickets. At least two teams sent baby souvenirs like onesies and bibs. And some teams haven’t answered Mr. Van Vleet at all.
This whole process made me think…
How does this relate to us?
This year I was asked to share some of my enthusiasm for teaching and motivation with the new teachers at the district’s New Teacher Orientation program. As I thought about my presentation, I considered this story. I thought of Pete Van Vleet, his son Jack, and the Houston Astros…
I told this story to the new teachers and asked them what it was that made them different (not necessarily better) from other teachers.
I asked these new teachers to answer the hypothetical question from the imaginary parent, “Why should your class be Jack’s favorite?” or “Why will you be Jack’s favorite teacher?”
And now, I am asking each of you that same question…
What is it about your classroom that is special and different, great and wonderful, magical and unique…?
What is it about you that makes kids love you?
I hope you take more than a few moments to ponder the questions.
I have stated this a million times and I’ll say it a few million times: There is no school like ours. There is no school – anywhere – as child-centered, innovative, loving, creative, caring, and special as ours. This is a magical place. We bring joy. We make learning fun. We make learning meaningful. We make learning exciting. We love kids. We’re happy. This is an outstanding school.
I am extremely proud to be the principal here. I’m honored, truly.
I also believe that we have a staff of teachers that are all outstanding. Over the years I have been told by numerous parents that each teacher at our school has made a positive difference in their children’s lives. Every teacher here has been some child’s favorite… many children’s favorite. (That truly is remarkable.)
But, that being said, these are question we should always ask ourselves.
What is it that I bring, each and every day, to the school, and my classroom (or office) to make it the best place for kids?
What makes me a special teacher?
How can I make sure that I am my best every day?
And, to the theme of this passage,
“How would I respond if a parent set that letter to me?”
The Yankees are baseball’s greatest team. I love the Yankees; they are part of me. I read, write, and think about them every day. (Sometimes that might be all I think about.)
I would live at Yankee Stadium if they let me.
I dream of being their public address announcer. (Since most of the games are at night, I wouldn’t even have to quit my day job.)
But, I also know that as great as they are, the Yankees aren’t great at everything:
- The Yankees don’t often reply to letters.
- While I love it, compared to other ballparks, Yankee Stadium pales in comparison in many regards. (I hate to write this, but as much as I love Yankee Stadium, I think CitiField is a nicer ballpark.)
- The Yankees aren’t always very fan friendly. They are often too corporate and too cold. The Yankees are so successful, and have such a long tradition of excellence on the field that it seems that they don’t work very hard at the small things. And that’s a shame. (Note to the Yankees, I have great ideas that I would love to share with you to enhance everything about the fan experience.)
I don’t think the Yankees answered Pete Van Vleet’s letter, just like they didn’t answer my son’s letter when he earned his Eagle Scout Award, and just like they don’t often reply when our students send letters as part of the letter writing unit.
I don’t want us ever to become those aspects of the Yankees – distant, seemingly cold, too big to seemingly care about the little things, letting our past success speak for the present.
I hope we always respond, with the passion and dedication, heart and spirit, and love and kindness that has always defined us as individuals and as a school when we answer the essential question
“What is it about me that makes me such a great teacher?”