As a martial arts teacher, I interact daily with lots of people. I’m acutely aware that as a teacher, I have a certain amount of influence with my students, of course more with some than with others. Although I may not always succeed, I try to leave them a bit better from our interaction. Whether it is a class, a formal progress check or just a quick lobby conversation, I do my best to give them my full attention and to leave them with a “nugget” when I have one to give. Hopefully, I’m creating some positive memories. Perhaps sometimes it might not even quite be a memory, it might be just a feeling, nothing they can put their finger on, just a sense of acceptance from someone they might respect. I have had a lot of really great role models, people who have created positive memories for me and who, for one reason or another, have really made an impact on how I live and view my life.
Like most people, I have also experienced, first hand, examples of really poor role models. I’ve seen people demonstrate exactly how to create a bad memory for someone else. I’ll never forget the first day of 5th grade in my new school. It was January of 1970. We had just moved from Montana to California over the winter break. After being introduced to the class by my new teacher, Mr O’Brian, I was shown to my desk. It was the place that I would spend my days for the next several months. My first interaction with another student was when Barry, the kid to my right, put gum on my seat. Then, at recess, he called me out. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good. He had to explain it to me.
Over time, I learned that Barry was pretty harmless. A lot of bark, but that was about it. I ended up making plenty of new friends and life in California turned out okay after all.
I wasn’t traumatized for life by Barry (although the fact that I’m sharing the story now is probably a bit telling). I just didn’t like him. Ever. We went to school together for years. At one point, in an effort to become friends, he even invited me over to his house to play catch. However nice he was to me, I just couldn’t forget the memory of trying to remove gum from the seat of my pants without looking stupid.
If Barry walked in to my school today to say “Hi,” would I want to give him a “Private lesson” and show him what I’ve spent my life practicing? Honestly, no. But…we were kids. It was 5th grade. We all did stupid stuff back then. Most of us probably still do. So, if Barry, walked into my school today to say “Hi,” I would greet him warmly, talk of old times and then wish him well, sincerely. But, it wouldn’t be the same as seeing Anthony, the kid who stuck up for me on the playground in 7th grade, or Mrs Austin, my 6th grade teacher who encouraged me when I really needed it.
We all are creating memories for others every day, those of us that are teachers even more so.
Years from now, when those you used to know, those you used to teach, see your picture or hear your name, what memory is going to rise in them? Let’s make some memories.
Thanks Barry for the great lesson.