Monday, May 5, 2014

My Teaching Hero

This is a blog post that I am writing as part of the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community.

This week's challenge is to share the story of my teaching hero.  So, Mr. Deluca, this is for you.

My father was a teacher, so too was my uncle and two of my aunts.  I never really entertained the idea of teaching when I was in grade school.  I always dreamed that I would either play in the National Hockey League or become an airline pilot.

That all changed in 4th grade.  That year, I had Mr. Deluca for a teacher.  I remember at the time being upset that I did not have the same teacher as my older brothers had, Mr. Denio. He was the funny one, the cool one, he even allowed kids to chew gum in class!  How awesome was that?  A teacher allowing his students to chew gum in class!  Man, was I disappointed!

This feeling was only reinforced early in the year.  One day, after recess, my shoes had a lot of mud on them, and the mud began to accumulate under my desk.  Right in the middle of teaching, Mr. Deluca stopped what he was doing and pointed this out to everyone in class.  He only directed his disdain for the mess at me, but everyone else in class became a part of our conversation.  

I can hear him telling me that I was making a mess and that I needed to get paper towels, crawl under my desk, and clean up every last bit of mud.  If I close my eyes right now, 27 years later, I can picture everything about that moment.  Every single pair of eyes on me, the struggle of cleaning up mud with a paper towel, the bright lights in the classroom- it is like I am there again.

You might be asking yourself, how in the world can this guy be your hero?  He was so demeaning (at least in my eyes) and left this scar on you that still stings 27 years later.  Great question, but remember that that was in the beginning of the year.  There was still a lot of time left for him to leave positive memories with me.

Mr. Deluca was passionate.  About everything.  He was excited about the US Presidents.  All of them!  So much so, that he made us memorize each of them, in order.  I can still list them today, 27 years later.  Was that feat evidence of deeper learning?  No, not really.  It was strict memorization, a low level activity.  But, his passion about learning the names of the Presidents was infectious.  That passion still sticks with me today, 27 years later.

Mr. Deluca wore a suit and tie to school every day.  Not all teachers were that well dressed every day.  I remember thinking that there is something special about this guy, he gets super dressed up for us every day!  Surely, there was a reason for it, maybe he cared more about us than the other teachers cared for their students.  

By about the third month of school, I began to work on my mom.  I had to have a suit just like Mr. Deluca's.  I either wasn't aware of the potential ramifications of wearing a suit to 4th grade, or didn't care.  I had to have one, and I needed it yesterday.  

Eventually, I convinced my mother to buy me a suit.  I was so excited to wear it to school, to show Mr. Deluca that I could get dressed up for school as well.  The suit was spectacular, all the way down to the clip-on tie that I had to wear because I was too little for a grownup tie.  I can even hear my brothers calling me 'Captain Clip-on'!  

None of that fazed me though, because my hero wore a suit, therefore I needed to as well.  The first time that I wore my suit to school, I was excited beyond words.  I can still picture myself walking to the doorway of my classroom, and stopping at the threshold.  I wanted Mr. Deluca to see me, in all my glory!  I just knew that that day was going to be the best day ever.

I don't really remember the reactions of my classmates. They may have made fun of me, most likely they did. But, I do remember the reaction from my hero.  He met me at the door, and made me stand there so he could check out my new suit.  He remarked that I looked fit to lead the class, that I was dressed better than some of the teachers!  

That was all I needed.  He affirmed my risk taking in wearing the suit that day, and immediately wiped away anything negative that I may have felt about him.  In that moment, I felt validated by my hero, and there was no better feeling in the world at that time.  I knew then and there, that I was going to be a teacher.  

I also knew, that when I became a teacher, that I was going to do my best to live up to the ideal of Mr. Deluca.  

As the years went on, I still dreamed of playing in the NHL, but eventually reality took over, and I resigned myself to the fact that getting paid to play hockey just wasn't in the cards for me.

But, teaching was in the cards for me.  My new dream became to one day become a teacher and connect with my students in much the same way that Mr. Deluca had connected with me.  I was going to bring the passion, the energy, and the desire to make him proud of me every single day to school.  

And so, while I didn't get to live out my dream of playing in the NHL, I ended up living out an even better dream, paying forward, to my students, what Mr. Deluca had given me.  For that, I am forever grateful for my fourth grade teacher, and I only hope that I can achieve some of the impact that he had on me with my students.

So, Mr. Deluca, thank you for inspiring in me, for caring about me, and for believing in me.  I can only hope to pay it forward to my students of today.

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