This time dear reader, I will not start the post talking about a book, I will end up talking about one. A very old but very special one that had a profound impact in my life, not because of its content but because of the story behind it. The thread that makes the connection between the following two sories is the impact that a teacher’s expectations may have on us.
The successful comedian
I usually watch Jimmy Fallon’s show. For the ones who are unfamiliar with it, it’s an American TV talk show that airs in public television late at night. He invites celebrities as well as people from music or art industry who show a lot of talent and are just taking off. The show has a relaxed, funny and creative profile which makes a good watch after a long working day.
A few weeks ago, a young stand-up comedian came to the show. His name is Josh Johnson. He is a 26 year old man who has already made a name for himself in the field apart from being finalist or winning in important contests of the comedy scene. After he did his stand-up in the show, he sat down with Mr. Fallon to talk about him and his career as every single guest does. But what happened next was unexpectedly cute, heartwarming and priceless for the audience and for the parties involved.
-The host of the show: –You brought someone special with you tonight
-Josh Johnson: Yeah, My high school teacher is here. The first time I ever did stand up for the High School talent show, he was like…”I’m gonna see you on the Tonight Show one day”, so I flew him out to make sure he could see it! Mr Ward!
(While Mr Ward waves proudly and visibly moved from the audience of the show who is gasping in awe)
-The host of the show: Hey Mr. Ward! He made it!
Here is the link if you’d like to watch it.
It was such a great moment, maybe it was 15 or 20 seconds on TV, but it showed so much about those two human beings. How encouraging and meaningful the words of a teacher may be for a student who is timidly starting to show his skills (that may have nothing to do the subject he teaches.) How alert a teacher can be to the potential talents of a person who happens to be his student. On the hand, it also shows how powerful it is for a young person that somebody believes in us. And ultimately, it demonstrates how you can be very successful in whatever area without forgetting your uncertain beginnings.
So, if you are wondering what this “anecdote” have to do with the book I mentioned in the beginning, here’s the other story.
A seventy-year old book with a valid lesson.
This TEXTO UNICO (sole textbook) from 5th grade was used in Uruguayan Primary schools from the 1940’s at the time my father was a kid. It was a book that covered several subjects from the curricula of that time. My dad has kept it as a treasure all his life and when he told me why, I kept the story as a valued treasure all mine.
The thing is, my dad never got to 5th grade at school. He got to 4th grade, which was the only possibility students from certain remote rural areas of Uruguay had at that time. If they wanted to continue studying, they had to go to the town schools which was out of the question considering not only the financial situation but also the geographical one. Far from everything, it was an ordeal sometimes to even arrive at school every morning. Plus, his mom knew that it was important that the 4 boys of the house had a basic education, but the economical situation of a family–torn by the untimely death of the father–called for other pressing duties: work to fulfill basic needs.
So, why did he end up carrying this book all his life, feeling proud about it?
Because his 4th grade teacher, smartly aware that these very few kids (they were fewer than 10 in the whole school) at this remote rural school would not be able to continue their formal education, insisted that they bought the textbook to “continue studying and acquiring important concepts that will be useful for your life”, but on their own. So, what happened was that the teacher was so persuasive, that my dad convinced his mother to buy him the book. He got the money, two pesos at that time, so that the teacher could buy it in the capital city of the country, almost 200 hundred kilometers away from the school, but the only place where it could be found.
Even at that young age, my dad had such appreciation for his teacher’s interest in their future learning and in their preparation for life, that he felt he had to be up to the task. He got his book, wrote his name on it and started reading it subject by subject after the school term had ended that year. When a couple of years later, at the age of 12 he had to leave home to work on his own, in a farm for just a few pennies and food and lodging, guess what he packed in his small humble trunk? The 5th grade textbook. The one he read –he told me–every night before going to bed. So, from geographical features of his country to historical events, to science facts about plants and animals, he could feel he was still learning “important concepts useful for life”
Many years after, and many jobs after, when he was a factory worker in the city and he could afford to get married, have his home and start a family, his pride was to buy his only daughter books. So, by this time, you can see what is one of the biggest connections in my entire life and why books are so meaningful to me.
Two stories, one idea: The profound impact that an alert, assertive comment from a respected adult can have on our entire lives, does not cease to amaze me. It has revealed to me not only significant connections but the responsibility we have in our role as teachers.
I wish you a lot significant connections in and for your life, with or without book. The magic happens anyway!