To Shape the Future

There are a lot of good teachers out there in our school system, both public and private.  Sadly there are also quite a few bad ones.  However, a great teacher is one who realizes that the ability to shape the future lies in their hands and they strive to make the most of it.  It’s not in their lesson plans or even in the knowledge that they hope their students retain past the test that Friday.  Thirteen years from kindergarten to graduation and what I remember is that I went to school ten months out of every year and that when taking a multiple choice test “All of the above” is usually the correct answer.

Okay, so maybe that’s not really fair.  I do remember some things from those prison camp years.  I know how to write, after all, and regardless of what my check ledger looks like I can do basic math.  I don’t know a damn thing about chemistry, however.  I tried in the beginning, but Mr. D really was not the best teacher.  He even looked at one kid and told him that it was all right, “we need ditch diggers in America.”  That’s not motivation; that’s demoralizing a teen.  My dad went to see Mr. D when my sister had him and this tall man with one eyebrow that went across both eyes showed my dad his grade book.

“There are a certain number of students that are just going to fail.  Statistics show it.  See here?”

“What I see there is that you suck as a teacher if that many kids are failing.  It’s time we went to the principal’s office.  You need the board of education upside your head.”  I think my sister received As after that.

Teachers have the power to discourage or encourage a child, shaping their future for good or ill.  It is a responsibility that they should all take seriously and make the most of.  I was blessed with three such teachers that challenged me and thus changed me into who I am and what I do.  I remember many of my teachers, such as Miss Winter whom I had twice and both times went on a field trip to St. Augustine.  There was also Mr. G in middle school who had rumors started about him and who loved to show movies with the lights out - a lot.  Mr. Thedy taught our English class with a Miss Piggy puppet and Mr. Thomas, my middle school choral teacher, made a horn out of garden hose.  In high school, there was Miss McCorkle who taught me that teachers caved in to popularity just as much as the students did.  There are others, each with a unique story that comes to mind.  However, they didn’t help shape me.  They were teachers; that’s it.

No, the three that stand out the most were life-changers.  They weren’t satisfied teaching, they wanted to push me out of my box and make me stretch who I was.

The first was Mr. Martin, my sixth grade teacher.  He had a bushy mustache and a giant poster of the Fonz on his wall.  He didn’t start out as my teacher that year, but I got demoted and soon found myself crying in protest as I crossed his classroom’s threshold.  Up until Mr. Martin, I was pretty much a straight A student.  He gave me my first C and then my first F.  He didn’t just accept my scribble, he made me rewrite it and then rewrite it again.  He took the time to make me work and not just coast through school.  If he saw a subject was too easy, he made it harder.  I hated him that year.  However, I loved him every year since because he took the time to show me I could always do better.

The other two came at the same time, eleventh grade, and I think they ganged up on me.  Mr. Woertendyke was my creative writing teacher and it was about the time I was escaping into the stories inside my head.  He taught me the structure of a story and how to think beyond what I saw in other writings.  He taught me how to be an observer of everything around me.  It was because of this tall gray-haired excitable man that our school started their literary magazine, Spindrift, that year and I was able to play a major part in its coming about.

At the same time, I was trapped inside Mrs. Waseleski’s tenth grade American Literature class.  She had seen me in Mr. Woertendyke’s class and immediately began to push me into every writing contest that came across her desk.  Because of her constant encouragement and persistence, which I took as badgering, I won the Florida State Pride Award for short stories and poetry.  It was from then on that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

These teachers looked beyond the kid I was portraying and saw something that I couldn’t see.  They took the time to encourage, critique and challenge me, so that I wouldn’t be satisfied with being mediocre.  They helped guide me with their enthusiasm as well as their time.  I wasn’t just a student, third seat, fourth row.  I was Robbie Cox, a kid with potential and a future.  Teachers have the greatest opportunity to mold young lives into great people.  Outside of a child’s parents, they are the second greatest influence, if they take the time to see beyond the long hair and scrawny frame.  I owe these teachers quite a debt

Mr. D was correct.  We do need ditch diggers in America, and he should have been one.

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