It’s not quite forty degrees here in New Jersey. It’s cold. Hand stinging cold. It’s the cold that makes your nose and ears hurt.
Did I mention it’s April? I think the fact that it’s actually spring makes the temperature outside that much colder.
At least the sun is out, though the day will remain in the low-40’s.
Yet, even with the (close to) frigid temperatures, I am excited, very excited, unbearably excited, to get outside this afternoon. Today is the Opening Day of our softball season.
I just love to play ball.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
Please see “It’s About The Money” for my latest post on Paul O’Neill and uniform #21.
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.
(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.