Two Teachers Who Changed My Life Forever
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been a dedicated student. I’d get home from school, and the first thing on my list for the evening would invariably be my homework. From fourth grade to my high school graduation, my parents never needed to intervene or encourage me to focus on my schoolwork or bring up my grades. Though they were always there to help me with anything I might need, I was mostly self-motivated when it came to class.
However, there are still those teachers who stick out in my memory, the ones who encouraged me to push myself to the limits of my capabilities, or gave me invaluable advice.
I remember one teacher I had in high school, Mrs. Butka, who taught geometry. I had an aptitude for math and science growing up, so right from the beginning of the semester, I began breezing through her assignments. One day at the end of class, she stopped me as I was leaving. “Oh, Michael,” she said, “Your homework is going to be different tonight.” Understandably, I was baffled. What did she mean? She started giving me tougher, more involved assignments than the rest of the class, forcing me to work ahead and do progressively more difficult proofs. I was never exactly bored with school, but the challenges Mrs. Butka threw at me every day were definitely a breath of fresh air. She was one of those teachers who kept reaching for new horizons. No matter how well I did on a test or assignment, she was always able to give me something to trip me up and keep me on my toes. With her, it wasn’t about completing a rote task, it was about excelling. That was a powerful lesson.
A little later in life, when I was at Stockton University, I met Mr. Smith. I was in his course, “Sports and Society,” basically on a whim. It was one of those general courses that you just have to fill in. Aside from it ending up being a fascinating, engaging course examining the way the world works while using sports as a lens for analysis and explanation, I’ll never forget a piece of advice he gave me at the beginning of the semester. After the first day of class, I went up to him, to let him know I was dedicated to pulling a good grade, asking for anything I could do to ensure a solid score in the class.
“What’s your GPA?” He asked.
“Not where it needs to be,” I replied. I was trying to get into PT school at the time.
He surprised me with what he said next. “Listen,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “We both know you have more opportunities than most people. You have some connections, some of those things that you can utilize to work your way through college, you’re fortunate enough to not have major student debt …” He paused. “Nothing is wrong with any of that. But remember, when you get to where you want to go, always look back and, if you see anybody struggling who didn’t have the opportunities you were given, use your resources to help them along in the process.”
It was one of those revelations that sticks with you for your entire life, that molds you at the fundamental level. I keep it in mind to this day. In fact, I actually stayed in touch with Mr. Smith for years, and even met his son, a successful attorney, years later.
Regardless of how self-motivated we may be, there will always be those who provide us with invaluable wisdom and push us further than we’d be able to go otherwise. Mr. Smith and Mrs. Butka are just two such people on a long list, but I’m incredibly grateful for everything they did for me — probably without even realizing it.