As summer winds down and thoughts of football are in many of our hearts, I am reminded of the story told about the great Green Bay Packer coach, Vince Lombardi. It is said that he started every season with his great Packer teams by holding up a football and saying, “Men, this is a football. Our goal is to get this football in the end zone more often than our opponent gets the ball in the end zone.” As a teacher, I have to remember, what is the “football” of my job? Test scores? Differentiated instruction? PBL? PLC? IEPs? RtI? No, these things are all important, but they don’t rise to the level of the most important.
The most important thing is not even a thing. It is the children who eagerly enter my classroom each fall. They come wanting to have a wonderful year in 5th grade. For some, the expectation of success in school started for them in pre-school and they have thrived every year of their school career. For others, their journey has been rough and rocky. They come to my class a bit discouraged and down on school. They have been told “you do not do this well, you misbehave too often, your test scores need to improve.” I love each and every kid in my class, but it is the battered and bruised ones that hold a special place in my heart.
I was that kid in elementary school. In third grade, as I remember it, I spent half the year in the hallway because I would not sit still, I could not print well enough and I talked too much. But then…4th grade came along and with it, came Mr. Miller. Mr. Miller was in his second year of teaching and he was different. Yes, he expected me to behave. However, when I didn’t, he would gently correct me. He taught us fun games to play during recess and would even come out and QB our football games. Mr. Miller asked us to stop by his ticket booth when we attended the high school football games on Friday night. When we did, he acted like we were the most important people there. I never missed a home game!
He got what the “football” was as a teacher. I am sure he wanted us to learn and do well in his class. However, it never felt like our value depended on how well we did. Our value was based on the fact that we were young people that he was happy to teach and guide on our journey of education. I would like to tell you every thing changed for me in school after 4th grade, but it did not. Fifth grade was worse than third grade, but now I knew I mattered and I had a place in school. I could be something, anything I wanted. And I knew what I wanted to be.
Each year for 23 years, I have told my students, “If I can be half the teacher to you that Mr. Miller was to me, you are going to have a great year!” I hope I have succeeded. Many of them tell me I have. This year as you head back to school, I know you are going to face challenges. We all do as educators. Please remember what the “football” of education truly is. I challenge you to find the students who you can see from the first day are ready to give you a run for your money. Invest in him. Talk to her. Help them feel like you care. And show them you love who they are. Have the courage to discipline them but then have the courage to go back and welcome them to class the next day.
You never know what small acts of kindness will do for the future of those kids. You could be changing the trajectory of that kid’s life. If it had not been for Mr. Miller, I don’t know where I would be today. Who will you be a Mr. Miller to this year? Get your eyes on the “football” and help them score touchdowns in the game of life.
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