Jodi’s Journal: The teachers who shaped me the most

Sept. 16, 2018

At first, I blamed the full moon.

Things just felt out of sync for a while. If a situation could have gone smooth or rocky, it went the latter.

There were some tough stories to address. Everyone got busy, so rounding up what I needed from sources got challenging. While we had our best month yet in August, work at times felt like a lot of work.

But while the lunar phase passed, the bit of an early fall funk didn’t.

I mean, I’m a Cleveland Browns fan, and I haven’t seen a winning football game since 2016. No wonder things seemed somewhat bleak.

And, to be honest, I’ve never liked back-to-school season.

It doesn’t make much sense because I always liked school itself, but I never looked forward to leaving my pretty carefree summers behind to head back to class.

And when I looked at my September schedule, it felt a little like a pile of homework and tests. I have six speaking engagements this month, and most require some degree of prep time.

But one last week helped energize me and reminded me of an aspect of our business community I too often overlook.

I was asked to speak to the School Administrators of South Dakota, which is a different audience from the business groups I often address. So I wanted to go a little different direction with my comments.

I was taught by many wonderful teachers, and I decided to tell them about those who made the most difference for me. And the more I thought on it, I realized most of them were “teachers gone rogue.”

There was my first-grade teacher, who sometimes had me leave class to tutor another student. When you’re 6 years old and trusted to teach someone else, it creates a sense of responsibility. It forces you to learn to communicate in a new way. It shows you that while some things come easily for you, they don’t for everyone, and that develops empathy.

I doubt anyone would let two first-graders leave the room unsupervised today, but I’m glad she did.

That spring, I had the lead in one of the little school plays we were putting on to end the school year. The day before the show, the lead role in one of the other plays got chicken pox. The first-grade teachers asked if I could learn that part too. And when I pulled it off, I’d learned how to deal with pressure and perform in front of a crowd – skills that I’d later use in television news and still today.

Then there was my fifth-grade teacher, whose classroom operated unlike anything else in the school. She based the coursework around Bloom’s taxonomy, an approach to education that promotes higher forms of thinking. Some of our assignments required simply knowledge or comprehension of a topic. Others required us to apply or analyze what we had learned. And the highest level work required us to synthesize information to create something new and use evaluation skills.

I know all this because she told us. She explained why we were approaching schoolwork the way we were, and we were able to see how learning applied in real-world contexts. I grew more as a student in those nine months than probably any other, but the biggest thing she did for me was start almost every day with a discussion of current events.

We were expected to consume news. And my 10-year-old self ate it up. Those were the very early days of CNN, and I would wake up early to watch it. It absolutely created a foundation that later led me into journalism.

I’m not sure that teacher would be allowed to go her own way today the way she was when she taught me, but I’m glad she did.

Then there were my high school teachers, including some outstanding English teachers. They were tough on my writing, demanding better structure and precise word choice. Without them, I would not have been prepared to perform at arguably the country’s toughest journalism school. I’m not even sure I would have been admitted.

And finally, there was a high school teacher who never actually taught me in class but became more like a coach for me. Looking back, it’s a little amazing he even got hired. He’d held a variety of jobs, including acting, and his career had taken him to New York City for a time, where he appeared on soap operas.

In addition to teaching, he ran the school’s radio and television stations. To make a long story short, he ended up creating multiple television programs for me to host, so I would gain experience very early in my news career that would lead me into journalism and set me up for success there.

That teacher didn’t fit the mold, but he was hired anyway and given the latitude to create something that has benefited me for decades.

This week marked 18 months in business for me, and in reflecting on that, I realized that starting a business is the one time in life when you’re really required to draw on everything up to that point that’s made you who you are. You have to use so many of the skills and relationships you’ve built along the way for it to be a success.

Thinking back on those teachers who shaped me into the person I am lifted my spirits and reminded me how critical that profession is for all of us.

A study I found from a few years ago compared the level of public respect given to the teaching profession in various countries. In China, teachers are revered. They have the highest level of public respect, on par with doctors in that country.

In the U.S., they ranked about average, compared most closely in social status to a librarian, followed by a social worker.

That’s not to discount any profession, but to me it shows space for a culture shift too. And it’s not all tied to pay – teachers in the U.S. were paid higher on average in that profession compared with others globally – and it didn’t result in better public respect.

I’m encouraged to see business and education beginning to create closer ties. It’s essential for both. Teachers need to be thought of as members of our business community. They need to be given, as mine were, the empowerment to go a little “rogue” and become micro-entrepreneurs in their classrooms. And the profession as a whole needs to be elevated, so that in a business world with innumerable options, some of the most talented individuals choose education careers.

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Jodi’s Journal: The teachers who shaped me the most

This back-to-school season, remember the teachers who influenced you the most. It might help elevate the profession as a whole.

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