Hearts, Not Hands

The other day I was making a congratulatory video for a great young man about to graduate from medical school.  This soon-to-be doctor is going to be amazing.  He is one of the best young people ever.  I have known him for a long time as I was his principal when he was in middle school.  

Time and life pass too quickly.  I cannot believe he is now almost a doctor.  

One of the special joys and delights of being an educator is seeing the great people your students grow up to be.  I knew this child was going to be very successful.  Even when he was ten-years-old, he was something special.  

As I recorded the short video message, I shared what I hope is the most important advice he receives as he heads off to a successful practice. 

Continue reading “Hearts, Not Hands”

Teachers Affect Eternity…

I have told this story before, but it is one I love to tell.  It needs telling, as well. 

Especially in these times.

One of the most wonderful ministers of all-time, a pastor who preached from the heart, made church interesting, and even made God accessible, had moved on from our church.

There was an emptiness.  I felt it deeply.  The minister who had left was a man I admired greatly.  I was thrilled that he had been the man who married my wife and I.  We all missed him greatly…

Continue reading “Teachers Affect Eternity…”

Hey, It’s About YOU!

The Beatles song Hey Jude was in my head as I prepared to write my Weekly Memo to the teachers at the school where I serve as the principal. 

As I started humming the melody and quietly singing that song to myself, I quickly realized that there is a great deal within the lyrics that delivers an important message.  I quickly scrapped the original idea I had for the memo and began writing about this epic Beatles tune…

Let’s take a quick look at the messages that I took from one of the Beatles’ most famous songs:

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better…

If that’s not one of the biggest lessons in life, I don’t know what is. 

The message here is simple – Don’t make it bad.  Just don’t.  The world, life itself, is often filled with bad things, hurtful things, sad things…  Each day (and sometimes it really is each day) we’re faced with things that upset us, things that hurt us, things that frustrate and annoy us.  That’s life.  It is what it is. Continue reading “Hey, It’s About YOU!”

Kintsugi

This essay can be found in the book Impossible is an Illusion published by Wipf and Stock and available here.

***

My son came home from college, and in a discussion with me brought up a Japanese word, Kintsugi, that immediately opened up my mind to many thoughts.

It’s wonderful to find new words, new ideas, and new ways of thinking.

And, just for the record, kintsugi is now my new favorite word.

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A Shining Light

(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.

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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.

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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.

A Sense of Wonder

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.

Continue reading “A Sense of Wonder”

A Little Lesson in Latin

(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.” 

Continue reading “A Little Lesson in Latin”

Birthdays

January 21 will be here soon.  It’s a big day for some people.  Many famous people were born on January 21. 

These include:

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”