Sunday, September 18, 2016

Never Underestimate Your Influence


Sometimes when I reflect back to my nine years teaching English and social studies, I feel a little sad for the experience I provided my students. The same goes for my coaching. I was named our high school's head basketball coach at 25-years-old, just two years out of college. When I think back now to some of the things I did, or didn't do, it makes me want to drop my head. 

Even at the time, I often struggled with my confidence that I was doing a good job, especially in the first few years. I think I felt a little on edge nearly all the time. I was often stressed, but I really didn't talk much about it with anyone, not even with my wife, Lori. Sometime I even felt trapped. "Maybe I'm not cut out for this," I thought, but I didn't know what else I would do either.

Things really started to change for the better when I went back to get my Master's degree. I didn't really want to be a principal at that time. I figured you needed to have teaching figured out to do that. But I knew I needed to do something different. The graduate classes helped me see things from a different perspective, and the connections I made provided support for my growth.

Even though I improved during those teaching years, I sometimes wish I could start over and know what I know now. I would do so many things differently. My classroom would be a completely different place. My coaching would have a different focus. I think I would enjoy the journey a whole lot more.

In just the past couple of weeks, I've had different connections with several of my former students. We live about an hour away, so that doesn't normally happen too often. 

A former player was visiting our church with her family. Her husband's family lives in Bolivar. It was great to see her just for a few minutes.

Then I saw a former student at a restaurant where he was working. He's a manager there. I honestly didn't remember him. But we chatted for a few minutes. He shared a little about his family and said he really enjoyed my class. That meant a lot.

Another former student is now an English teacher in the same school where I taught. She returned to her home school after graduating. She was extremely bright and conscientious. I'm sure she must be an outstanding teacher. She messaged me through Facebook, because she came across one of my quotes that Edutopia had posted. I was happy she reached out to me.

And then last night, one of my favorite former players, who is now the head football coach at Southwest Baptist University, here in Bolivar, led his team to a thrilling comeback win. The Bearcats are now 3-0. I can't even express how much I enjoy seeing him be successful. I messaged him to congratulate him. He still calls me coach when I see him, which is about the greatest thing ever.

I have to remind myself that during those early years, just like now, I was doing the best I could with the information I had at the time. And when I see my former students doing well, it makes me feel very proud. And not because I was a huge influence in their lives. Like I said before, I think I would be so much more if I could do it again. But I still feel that connection. I'm proud of them and thankful that I had the privilege of working with each and every student.

Yesterday, we held our Bolivar HS Alumni Hall of Fame induction luncheon. There were three honorees this year. As they told their stories about their school years, it was obvious the gratitude they had for their school and the teachers who worked with them. These individuals are incredibly successful in their careers and very active in their communities.

One of the inductees, in particular, shared how teacher after teacher had impacted his life. When he spoke of his high school football coach, he was choked up and had to pause. He remembered each one by name and described the specific impact they had on his life. Several of these former teachers were among the guests at the event. None of the lessons had much to do with academic content by the way. But he named the character traits each one modeled for him. And how he took those lessons into his life and has tried to convey them to his own daughters.

As I listened, I got a little choked up myself. I thought of the impact that teachers have on the lives of kids and the influence my teachers had on me. It's the greatest profession in the world. I thought of how I wish every teacher could hear his words as he thanked his teachers with such sincerity. It was such a reminder about the value of relationships. 

It was also a reminder of the incredible impact you have on the lives of your students. Even if you feel you don't measure up, or maybe this isn't for you, always remember your legacy is not about doing everything perfectly. It's not about having it all figured out. Just be the best version of you. Show up well each day and try your best. Keep growing and learning. Invest in the lives of your students. And never underestimate your influence.

Questions: How do you look back at your teaching legacy so far? Are you too hard on yourself? How can you do your best today to invest in students? Please leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.  

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