Who are the people that have helped shape your life? Parents, friends, and people of faith have substantial impacts, but what about the others who randomly step into our lives and change our direction? People who believe in us, give us a chance or take the time to share their wisdom. Sometimes their impact stays with us a lifetime.
I can't say I embraced my early education with enthusiasm or excitement. My Mom said every conference in school ended with the teacher saying, "If he would only apply himself." There was also the 'Class Clown' description that I thought was a good thing. For me, getting an education was more of a means to an end. A college degree would help me get a better job, so that was my motivation. Despite my shortsighted attitude in school, I did learn some things along the way. Looking back on the teachers I had growing up, two stand out because they helped me examine and take charge of my life.
Mr. William Klitz taught Geometry at my high school. At the end of class, he sometimes took a few minutes to talk to us about life. The first time this happened, I wondered what this had to do with mathematics. Instead of teaching things I didn’t think I would ever use, he started talking about how our lives were changing, as we grew older. When he finished, I jotted down a few notes and moved to my next class. I thought about his life comments throughout the rest of the day and night. That’s something that never happened with the geometry!
I looked forward to the times Mr. Klitz transitioned from teacher to mentor. He talked about the importance of finding balance in life, dealing with stress, and keeping things in perspective. He emphasized the importance of responsibility and accountability in our actions and relationships. We needed to be understanding of other points of view, treat others with respect, and help those around us who were less fortunate. These talks weren't about preaching. They were about raising our awareness and opening our minds. It didn’t raise my grades, but it did help my understanding of life. At the end of the semester, I thanked him for his words of wisdom. He smiled and said he wasn't sure anyone was listening. For once, I listened to his every word.
My favorite teacher in college was Dr. Elmer Gainok. He retired from a successful business career and earned his doctorate before beginning to teach. As a business major, I enjoyed several of his classes. He was strict, disciplined, and pushed everyone to excel. Everyone in the class was expected to contribute. He was also fair and took the time to connect with each student. Students respected him because he supported his teachings with personal examples that made the information interesting and relevant.
Dr. Gainok also tried to prepare us for life in the workforce. He drummed into our heads that there is no such thing as a free lunch. We should choose to focus our efforts toward achieving our dreams instead of spending our lives reacting to what life hands us. It is up to each of us to figure out what we want in life and fight for it with discipline and hard work. Create a plan, gather your resources, and put in the time. Good or bad, we reap the rewards of the choices we make. He spoke the truth about so many things, including the fact that my real education began when I entered the workforce.
These two teachers were unique because they went beyond merely covering the class material. They helped prepare us for life. Sometimes even the okay students like me listened and benefited from their wisdom. Saying that teachers today have an uphill battle is an understatement, but f you look close, you will still find the special ones who help their students deal with life.
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