Never underestimate the tremendous impact teachers have on students, helping set the direction of their lives. Studies show that people give credit for their success in the business world to the role models they encountered as youth.
I’ve shared these stories before, but I think they bear repeating. Two teachers played major roles in helping me become a successful businessman.
Professor Harold Deutsch was my academic adviser at the University of Minnesota. I was enrolled in his class on the history of World War II. Professor Deutsch had been one of the interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials. He did not teach history; he was part of history.
Spring quarter of my sophomore year: Professor Deutsch had just given me a D. I went in to plead my case: I said being on the golf team prevented me from giving my class work my best effort.
“Harvey,” he said. “Keep this up and you will be able to devote your full time – and it looks like you already have – to pushing that little white ball across a big green lawn. Your excuse is pathetic. I’m not changing the grade. However, I’m going to challenge you, not just to raise your grade, but to get an A in this course when it continues in the fall.”
In the fall quarter, I got an A in Professor Deutsch’s class. He should have been graded, too . . . an A in psychology.
My other mentor was Les Bolstad, the University of Minnesota golf coach. Like all great coaches and teachers, Les did not teach golf. He taught life. If you learned a little golf on the side, well, so much the better. Les was a second father to me.
Both men taught me tools that I’ve honed in the business world – to stay focused, to set realistic goals, and the arts of persuasion, leadership and visualization.
Today, Mary Mackbee is the principal of St. Paul (Minn.) Central High School, from which I graduated a few (!) decades ago. She’s been there 22 years.
To teachers, she is the boss who is willing to fight to preserve their programs.
To parents, she is accessible and approachable and willing to listen.
To students, she is simply Ms. Mackbee, who knows 99 percent of the kids’ names.
Central is one of the city’s most culturally and economically diverse, not to mention popular, high schools, boasting a 92 percent overall graduation rate. Ms. Mackbee champions the advanced placement, International Baccalaureate and Quest programs and Central’s performing arts offerings. She responded positively to funding for cup stacking supplies when she saw data that showed how that dexterity activity helps reading, math and cognitive abilities.
Ms. Mackbee commands respect because everyone knows she is behind them all the way.
Taylor Mali, poet, humorist and teacher, tells a story about the value of teachers as role models.
One night at dinner a CEO decided to explain the problem with education. He said: “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? You know, it’s true what they say about teachers: Those who can do, do. And those who can’t do, teach.” He challenged another guest, “Hey, Susan, you’re a teacher. Be honest, what do you make?”
After some thought Susan replied, “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could, and I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. I can make a C-plus feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor and an A feel like a slap in the face if the student didn’t do his or her very best. I can make parents tremble when I call their home or feel almost like they won the lottery when I tell them how well their child is progressing.
“You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read and read. I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart. And if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make in money, you pay them no attention.”
Susan then paused. “You want to know what I make? I make a difference.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Mackay’s Moral: Teachers strive not to teach students to make a living, but to make a life.