Who in the hell would want to be a teacher these days? They get blamed for everything that is wrong in the world. You know what I am talking about; we all have that friend who over shares about their miserable life and how that ninja-like dream killer of an educator ruined their only shot at happiness. I figured a great way to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week would be to make myself vulnerable (something I don’t do easily) and share with you how one educator has shaped my life. To this point, I have only shared how my high school baseball coach/social studies teacher changed the course of my life with my beautiful wife of 14 years (shout out to Cristina Thompson). I realized that I was being selfish, and these experiences could very well add value to people’s lives and allow me to honor the world’s oldest profession…wait, I mean honor the world’s most underappreciated profession.
Let me first start by saying that I had a lot of great teachers throughout the years, and many invested their heart and souls into my development that led me to evolve into this incredible being that I am today, but I’m sure most would appreciate remaining nameless for obvious reasons. However, I will out Mr. David Landrith and allow him to bask in the glory of contributing to my brilliance.
I was a fairly typical latchkey kid, a product of a divorce, which forced me to grow up quick. I approached my education as a means to keeping me on the baseball field. There were not many people yielding more influence in my life than the head varsity baseball coach because if you took baseball out of my life, I would have been lost. This was my element; the baseball field was the only place that my talent and passion met, it gave me purpose.
As I reflect back on my memories of Coach L., I experience deep gratitude for him being in my life. He had a commanding presence but was full of humility. Rarely did you ever hear about how he was a part of a College World Series Championship team or how he played professional baseball. You always got the sense that what happened yesterday did not matter; it was all about being consistent and putting in the work. His pedigree was very impressive: his father enjoyed a colorful career as a major league baseball player. His dad played along side of one of the greatest ever to play the game, Mr. Willie Mays. Coach never bragged about how his dad hit a game-winning walk-off homerun off hall of fame pitcher Warren Spahn or how his dad jumped on Roger Maris’s back to protect the pitcher. Nope, Coach kept all of these great nuggets to himself and let his actions do all of his talking. I only know this information thanks to Google. Of the many lessons this man has taught me, two had such a profound impact on me that they are now a part of my character.
Celebrate Your Victories with Dignity and Appreciation.
Coach demonstrated this lesson unequivocally during a game my junior year when we were playing a very talented team from the south side of town. This team had some highly touted recruits who garnered national attention. In the top of the fifth inning while the game was tied, I crushed a high fastball over the fence to put us up a run. As I rounded the bases I was celebrating like my next stop was Disneyland. Seriously, Kirk Gibson had nothing on me. Coach Landrith signaled for me to come over to the third base box; I trotted over there with my chest sticking out expecting him to praise my wondrous athletic ability, and he calmly expressed his displeasure for my antics and reminded me that we have yet to win the game. That pissed me off. I was like, “Who in the hell does he think he is? I just delivered the very best outcome for our team, and he is criticizing my excitement???”
Well we went on with the game and, sure enough, lost the lead again. In the last inning of regulation, I came up to bat again, and same as earlier, the game was tied. I was still furious about what had transpired earlier but was ready to take some hacks. Well, Déjà vu… same pitch, same result, I hit my second homerun of the game. This time, though, I sprinted around the bases with a scowl on my face, refusing to show any emotion in protest. Coach summoned me over to the third base box again. This time he told me in his booming voice said, “Son, it is okay to smile.” Unfortunately, we went on to lose that game in extra innings, but coach made sure he taught me the power of humility. I know that he was not trying to make me feel small but to expand my capacity for appreciation. This lesson has always stuck with me and has changed my paradigm from looking up at the stars and feeling insignificant to appreciating the fact that I am included in such a universe.
Show Up Everyday.
My senior year of high school was crazy and fun, but I was near the ledge a couple of times and needed to be pulled back. My parents did not really have a great sense as to what was going on, but thankfully Coach Landrith said what needed to be said. I had been missing some classes, and it finally caught up to me. My parents were informed, and my dad reacted in a way that he thought he should: he went down to the school to get some answers. The problem was that no one knew who he was, not even my baseball coach. Before a game that I was planning on playing in, Coach Landrith sat me in the dugout and unleashed his full fury on me. This was not a fun-loving intervention; this was a barrel-chested Grizzly Adams-looking man yelling at a decibel level high enough to ensure that not only my team heard, but the visiting team heard too. Later I found out that the track team practicing on the football field 500 yards away were in the loop as well.
He said a lot that day, but all I remember hearing was when he said, “And who is this guy who came into my classroom today claiming to be your dad? You have been in this program for four years, and I am just meeting him now?” It was like getting smacked in the face with the truth, and I was finally capable of comprehending it. This was such a humiliating experience that I knew then that I would never let my children experience anything like that. Coach was not trying to be hurtful; he was frustrated and genuinely concerned for my well being. This man was not related to me yet still had a vested interest in my progression; he was rooting for me. I have approached parenting from the perspective of just needing to show up everyday. My kids do not expect me to have all the answers, but they know they can count on me to be rooting for them.
My contention is that we need to honor our teachers through meaningful and deliberate expressions of our gratitude for showing up everyday and making the continuous, laborious investment of shaping our students. They work within constraints of a broken system yet are responsible for solving all that is wrong in our world. These effective educators focus on serving their students’ unique needs as Coach did for me. They may not bat a 1000, but when they connect, their influence has a compounding effect on the world.
I am a committed father who understands the importance of gratitude and being present. That will never show up on some ridiculous standardized test designed to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. However, it shows up in every interaction I have in my business, parenting, and coaching practices. Coach Landrith continues to teach and coach at my high school, and I know our community is better off because of the virtues he willingly shares.
Now, I challenge you to invest some time into expressing your appreciation for an educator who has shaped your life. If they are no longer living, how can you honor them? Plant a tree? Create a scholarship fund? Send a letter to their loved ones? Get creative; take action and build up some gratitude equity. In the comments below I would love to hear ways that you have or will honor an influential teacher in your life. It may not be convenient, but isn’t that the point? Now show up and be gracious…it will change your life. Thanks Coach!
Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project. Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.
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