By: Michael Aun
I grew up in a day and time when educators were more than teachers. They were the key ingredients to the didactic makeup of a community. They helped to create a consciousness for not just a school but also a town and a community.
Teaching is about more than schooling; it is the establishment of integrity in a community of students. The greatest gift educators afford to their students is to get each to believe in themselves.
I had a number of tutors in my life who were more than educators. They were men and women who would not allow me to give up on me. They were people who understood the power of that connection.
As a student in school system in the tiny hamlet of Lexington, SC a half century ago, I remember profoundly many of the subtle lessons I learned from my schoolteachers.
No one will ever confuse me for being a rocket scientist, engineer, mathematician or scientist. One of my math teachers found a way to get past my thick skull long enough to understand the concept of fractions.
His name was Harvey Halfacre, a rather diminutive man who pounded away on me and others to get us to understand the concept of inversion to understand fractions.
One day, out of a sense of frustration, he screamed to our class—INVERT! INVERT! INVERT! As he did so, he grabbed a desk and held it up in the air upside down. Despite being one of his leading “brain dead” students, I finally got it! That was not just teaching… it was show and tell! Some teachers tell; some explain; some demonstrate… others do it all and they inspire!
My Latin and French teacher Mrs. Iva Littlejohn was a brilliant educator. Her only problem was that she had a southern accent that literally defined “down south accent.”
French and Latin are hard enough to enunciate with no accent. I will never forget the first line in the freshman Latin book: “Ubi Est Insula…” Where is the island? Mrs. Littlejohn’s version was Oooooobie…. Ssssssst…… Innnnsulllllla. Despite the accent, she had her way of reaching the depths of my shallow brain.
I was out of my element in some subjects, no matter how good the teacher. Mr. Jim Shirley was our Algebra teacher. He recognized early on that I would never be a candidate to become a NASA engineer, so he took pity on me.
We came to a deal. If I did not snore too loudly in the back of the room and if I minimized the number of wise cracks which were typical of me, he would give me a passing grade. It was something of a truce between warring nations.
He passed me… but gratefully I learned that even though I would never be a geek at NASA, I would one day have the privilege of speaking to NASA engineers and employees literally hundreds of times over my speaking career. Sometimes the message is received from the messenger.
There were others who never even taught me but they educated me. William Moses was our school guidance counsellor who convinced me to enter an Oratorical Interpretations and Declamations speech contest.
Little did he know that he was launching a speaking career that would span a half century and place me in several Speaker Hall of Fame groups. He never knew it… heck, I am not sure I even knew it… but he was the advocate who never gave up on a kid, who at best, was confused and at worst was lost.
I did not realize it until it was almost too late in my life that these educators were not just teachers; they were the hero or shero at different moments in my life. The best gift they gave me was believing in me. I may have forgotten what they said but never forgotten the way they made me feel.
I may not recall the many lessons my teachers passed on to me. I do know that any lives I have touched on the platform as a speaker is evidence of how these great educators inspired me. They helped me climb my mountain.
Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® has addressed thousands of audiences in over 20 countries around the world.