Today, while working as a substitute teacher at the local high school, I had a chance to sit in on a motivational speaker. It was all oral, so I have to rely on my memory for the details, but this man told a story that really made an impression on me.
He is a high school football coach, and has been for many years; he’s about 70 years old now. He said he’s had about 60 players go on to Division I college football, and at least a dozen have made it to the NFL. He recalled one year he had a player who was about 6′ 2″, 300 pounds, and incredibly quick. But the young man’s life was in chaos. He was lazy, his grades were poor, and on top of all that he was a bully who was constantly getting into trouble.
Then one day after seeing him get pushed all over the practice field, the coach called the young man over for a reality check. It went something like this: “You have the ability to play Division I college football. But right now your life is a mess.” I’m not sure into how much detail the conversation went about the mess part. But soon, amazingly enough, things began to change. The young man stopped causing trouble, improved his grades to a solid C so he could graduate in good standing, and started to work on the football field. Eventually, he did play Division I college football.
Sometime after the transformation, he told his coach what had happened. He lived in a rough neighborhood and, based on what he saw around him, he had developed a life plan — he would become an enforcer for one of the local drug gangs. He didn’t think he needed school, and his bullying attitude was to develop the required personality for that type of job.
But when his coach told him he had the ability to play football at the next level, it caused him to rethink his goals. Nobody had ever shown that kind of confidence in him before. And he turned his life around, crediting the coach for the transformation. (He also realizes now his original choice would’ve probably led to an early grave.)
Such is the difference a teacher (or any caring adult) can make.