I just finished reading, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (by David Michaelis) an excellent book that provided an in-depth look at Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip and franchise. Schulz’s life was fascinating. He was successful beyond his wildest dreams. His characters became household names. His sayings have been quotes by millions. In many ways, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, Sally, and Snoopy defined America in the second half of the 20th Century.
(Author’s note – I changed the names of the student in this true story.)
Way back, a long time ago, when I was a teacher, I had a student named Beth. One day in class, during a discussion about Pre-Columbian America, Beth shared that she was of Native American decent. That prompted me to bestow a nickname on her. (I gave happy nicknames to lots of kids.) From that day forward Beth was “A Shining Light in the Sky.” Beth loved the nickname. She came to class every day with a warm smile.
Beth was one of those kids who was easy to like as a teacher: She was happy, enthusiastic, a hard worker, and team player. A model student, Beth was the type of kid who makes teaching a joy.
(The following passage was included as part of the monthly newsletter that I send out to the parents of my school community.)
It is no secret that I enjoy sports, mostly baseball, and that I have always been a big fan of the New York Yankees. There is something about baseball that resonates with me. The ebb and flow of the game, the simplicity, the day-to-day consistency… Like a good friend, from April through September, baseball is a constant companion. I love it.
One of the big stories that has come out of this year’s baseball season has been the fact that a rookie on the New York Yankees, a certain Aaron Judge, recently set the record for the most home runs ever hit in one’s first season. No player had ever hit 50 home runs as a rookie until Aaron Judge accomplished that feat. Amazing.
(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.
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.
“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:
I taught this student over three years ago. It wasn’t yesterday…
But my words mattered.
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.
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.
I came across a passage that suggested that we should always “maintain a sense of wonder” in our lives. I love the idea of seeking wonder, or magic, in the mundane.
Life isn’t always about the things we have to do, and even when it is, that doesn’t preclude us from seeking the good and something special in every situation. This is important to recognize and acknowledge because there can be good everywhere and at any time. It’s simply about maintaining that sense of wonder.
(This passage comes from my upcoming book of essays, “Impossible is an Illusion” which will be published by Ravenswood Publishers in May 2017.)
There is a Latin phrase that reads, “Crede quod habes, et habes.”
This can be translated as, “Believe that you have it, and you have it.”
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
The quote above is absolutely true. 100%. Great teachers leave a lasting impact on the students they teach. That positive impact can last forever.
This is NFL Playoff Weekend. There are two big games coming up on Sunday. The winners of each of the games will go to the Super Bowl in two weeks. I am a casual football fan, but I am excited about the playoff games this weekend. They promise to be exciting…
(If you click on the highlighted words before each section, you’ll have even more fun with this blog post.)
January 21 will be here soon. It’s a big day for some people. Many famous people were born on January 21.
Charles V, King of France, born on January 21, in 1338
Ethan Allen, a famous American general, in 1738
John C. Fremont, “The Pathfinder,” in 1813
Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate General, in 1824
Christian Dior, fashion designer, in 1905 Continue reading “Birthdays”