Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder
In my first years of teaching, I strived to be the “Kobe Bryant of teachers”. Around 2010, I changed my approach (just a little) and decided I wanted to be the Lebron James of the profession (in the next few years I may have to change it to Stephen Curry). Today I have realized that it really doesn’t matter who I put at the pinnacle for my imaginary pacesetter as long as I do what my mother implored me to do all my life – be the best.
“No matter what you do in life Jason, you work to be the best. If you’re a lawyer, you be the best lawyer. If you’re a janitor, you be the best damn janitor out there. Hell, if you’re a prostitute, you be the best prostitute!” Of course, the last portion of that statement was for comical relief to a young teenager, but my mother’s message was, and still is, profound and highly influential to my psyche.
For my mother’s funeral, I gave a speech dedicated to her mantra of “be the best”. To me, it is an obvious dedication that I must let other loved ones know how she molded me into the man that I am. To me, it seems that my parents took a bifurcated approach to my upbringing – my father took care of my intellectual and moral training while my mother nurtured my passion. My mother was a hard working, blue collar, Southern woman – back to back shifts at the hospital, early morning wakeups for cooking eggs, bacon and biscuit breakfasts, bargain shopping to save money, the list goes on and on. She was also uncannily thoughtful and selfless – she wrote so many anniversary, birthday, and thank you letters to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. You got a birthday? Expect a Hallmark birthday card in the mail from Amelia Hayes. Twenty-fourth wedding anniversary? Flowers from Mom will be at your door the day before.
What I really loved about Mom was her feisty spirit. Woe unto any retailer who thinks they could fleece my mother. She fought with kindness, relentless determination, and a special knack for being able to redress grievances by writing effective complaint letters (her success rate was ridiculously high!). Grocery stores like Albertsons, HEB, Randalls, Walmart and Winn Dixie felt her wrath if they didn’t honor her 25 cents off coupons or disingenuously promoted products. As a child, I spent countless of hours watching Mom protest at the customer service office. Her persistence and passionate personality and actions shaped the core of who I am as a person and professional.
My “be the best” mentality in the teaching world has translated into many aspects of my practice. My competitive nature in the classroom encourages me to ask my students how can I be a better teacher, scour educational journals for latest tools for pedagogical excellence, and other tactics to get that number one spot. I have even engaged in fun “educational espionage”
by asking students “why do you like this teacher,” “what does s/he do that makes him/her the best”. Whatever made those teachers the best in my students’ eyes, I searched for ways to incorporate those skills into my pedagogical arsenal. It’s that hunger for excellence, Mom’s “be the best” mindset, that drives me to stay sharp and stay hungry. Because of this attitude, I take my students’ failures personal, I dream of ways to enhance my classroom craft (ask my wife how much sleep she’s lost from my lectures while sleeping), I take inspiration for my craft from inside and outside the realm of teaching. This obsession is a direct manifestation of my mom’s influence. Teaching is my passion and every day I battle the forces of ignorance, indifference, and intolerance. The swagger from my mother’s credo has equipped me to face these challenges with the mindset of “I will not lose.” And Mom, I promise not to.
My mother was a fiery fighter and boundlessly loved me. I know that in our life’s contract that tomorrow is not promised, but death is. It is, unfortunately, impossible to have the luxury of being able to enjoy my mother’s physical presence; nevertheless, I can continuously honor her from the passion I exert. I am eternally indebted to my mother’s love, dedication and wisdom she gave me for my 33 years of existence (I’m 32 now, but I include the 9 months of her meticulously thoughtful care while I was in-utero). The only way I can repay is striving to be the best in whatever venture I undertake.