Maybe you saw this DMN blog post last week about a cool program tied to the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit, to be held in Dallas on January 10. Pretty cool deal: Teachers tell their story “about their life as an educator” in an attempt to win a speaking spot at the summit. (The event is designed to support and cheer North Texas teaches as they head into the second half of the school year.)
On Saturday, the summit’s organizers are staging a pretty cool event where you, normal non-teacher Frontburner person, can tell your story about a teacher who made a difference in your life. There will be a video booth outside of Booker T. Washington HSVPA at Flora and Jack Evans Streets in the Arts District tomorrow from 1 to 5 p.m. Some of the footage will/may be used for the summit.
I will be out of town this weekend, so I can’t make it. But here’s the story I would have told, which I call, “The Second Best Memory I Have That Involves A Teacher”:
When I was senior in high school, I skipped class all the time. I worked 30 to 40 hours a week and paid my own way, so I was always tired. Also, school was easy for me. Even though I was chronically absent, I kept a very high GPA. (#humble) Most of my teachers liked me and understood my life stress, so they let my absences slide because I kept my grades up.
The best high school teacher I ever had, Mr. Owen, saw things differently. As I recall — memory is a tricky thing — he taught philosophy, social studies, world history. But what he really taught us was how to think critically. He made boring subjects riveting. He challenged our beliefs. He made us defend our arguments. He demanded clear thought from teenagers, a challenge so immense I could not imagine undertaking it for a day, let alone four-plus decades.
One day, midway through my senior year, I skipped my morning classes to finish a paper for Mr. Owen’s class. I finished typing it (!), then hurried to school to turn it in. I raced into class just as the bell was ringing. As students filed out, I apologized for being so late, but I wanted to finish the paper and turn it in on time. After the last student left the class, Mr. Owen wheeled to me and said something like the following:
“If you’d been in class, you would have known that I extended the deadline for the paper one week. But you weren’t in class. You’ve missed eight classes this year, and by state law, if you miss nine I can fail you. And that is what I will do. I don’t care what grade you have in class, I don’t care why you’re missing class. Just know that you will fail this class if you miss even one more day, for any reason. I don’t want to do it, but allowing you to pass would not be fair to the rest of the class, and it would not be fair you to you. You can’t hustle and shortcut your way through life, Eric. Now get to your next class before you’re late.”
I never missed another Mr. Owen class. And I’ve forever remembered how much it meant to me that someone cared enough to hold me to a high standard. I think often that any success I have in life can be traced to that speech, that moment. Thank you again, Mr. Owen.