If we did all the things we are capable of,
we would literally astound ourselves.”
This week saw me in Washington, D.C. speaking at the annual conference of the National Association for Developmental Education. Besides the opportunity to spend a little time in our nation’s capitol (always a treat for me), I had the good fortune to meet and work with many dedicated college instructors from around the nation. More than 1,000 instructors who make a difference on a daily basis attended this annual event. Conferences such as NADE always excite me. At the very basic (and, really, the most important) level, I get to share ideas with colleagues from around the nation. This sort of give-and-take keeps my professional “saw sharpened.”
But this trip had added significance for me as I was able to touch base with a couple of students from years ago. Before I came to the college ranks, I taught for 11+ years in the Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, Florida). More specifically, I had the great opportunity to teach at Stanton College Preparatory School. Stanton was where I cut my teaching teeth. After leaving my first career (in criminal justice), fate placed me at Stanton as an intern in the spring of 1982. The school had opened its doors as an academic magnet the previous fall. I had no idea how fortuitous this placement would be for me.
Without a doubt, the years I taught and learned at Stanton rank among the most memorable and professionally meaningful in my career. I worked beside great colleagues. But more than that, I shared class time with some of the most remarkable young people I have EVER had the opportunity to teach. These young folks were absolutely wonderful to work with. Intelligent, compassionate, humorous, and challenging (in a very good way).
I had students who scored perfect scores on the SAT. Some were drama “stars”—and others who were budding rock stars and ballerinas. One served as a Congressional page. A good number were interested in national politics. Others had a passion for the environment. Their interests and concerns were as varied as their backgrounds. They were intellectual and they were fun. Social media has allowed me to stay in touch with some of these students over the years. I am always amazed (but never surprised) at how much these young people have accomplished. Today they are attorneys, business owners, teachers, researchers, mothers, fathers, doctors, political activists—and so much more.
While in D.C. I got to spend time with two of the Stanton alum: Kim Mihalik and Terry Kaden.
Kim is an accomplished engineer, world traveler—and now a successful business owner (see: www.theneatlife.com). She introduced me to a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant in the Adams Morgan area of D.C.—and then coffee at the energy-filled Tryst Coffee House. Kim also took the time to come to one of my presentations at the conference. What an honor that was for me. I joked with her that she is now older than I was when I taught her (“way back” when she was in the 9th grade). What an absolute delight to spend time with her. Beautiful, articulate, confident, witty, and smart. What a package! She even drew a map for me so that I could easily find my way back to the hotel from the coffee shop.
Terry actually lived with my wife and me during his senior year in high school. His family had the opportunity to relocate to (ironically) the D.C. area. Terry wanted to complete his high school education at Stanton (and his parents concurred). My wife and I were fortunate: we got a “son” for about nine months—and then he went off to college on someone else’s nickel! Terry was actually one of the first students I ever taught in my career. He was in the 7th grade geography class in which I did my internship. He still likes to remind me that he “broke me in” as a teacher. I subsequently had Terry as a student in 9th grade government/economics, 10th grade world history, and 11th grade Advanced Placement United States History. He ended up graduating as the salutatorian of his graduating class. Today, he is married, expecting his second child (with his lovely wife Natasha), and a very successful attorney in the D.C. area. A long way from the days of writing essays in a non-air conditioned Florida classroom in the mid-1980s! We got the chance to catch up, swap stories and laugh at the Matchbox restaurant. (If you ever go, get the mini-burgers and the spicy meatball pizza. Yum!)
A joy of teaching—and I am not aware of many other professions that provides this ongoing “psychic wage”—is to see lives unfold and the positive impact they have on the world around them. Kim has done that—and continues to shine on all those who come into her circle. Terry is leaving his mark on the legal and corporate world. And both are wonderful friends and citizens of their communities. And these are only two of the many, many, many Stanton students who are doing great things for our world. The school, the teachers, and the students make a difference. I am fortunate to have shared in a little bit of their remarkable journey.
In a world that can be very jaded and cynical at times it is refreshing to be around these vibrant young people. They DO make a difference.