Posted by: ketheredge | August 15, 2013

The Power of Educators

As the school year begins, I often wonder if we as a community know how powerful educators are.  I know the word power can evoke many thoughts (and I really don’t want to touch on all the ones I don’t mean) – but what I mean is the power of influence in a child’s life.  Educators have the power to tear down or raise up their students.  I have had both types in my life, and both the positive and negative types inspire me in my own teaching style.  One, however, resonates with me daily.

Two summers ago, I went through Kevin Washburn’s Writer’s Stylus program.  (If you haven’t heard about it, I highly recommend the program.)  It is a wonderful instructional writing program that my school uses.  During the five day workshop, we wrote an essay inspired by the This I Believe organization.  Today, I am assigning the same task to my composition students.  As I thought about the assignment, and prepared to share my own I Believe essay with my students, it shocked me to realize that I have never published the essay I wrote two years ago.  Immediately, I said to myself, “Well, you were supposed to scan a picture that went with the post, and you never did…”  Well, who cares?  Today, I feel compelled to post without a picture – so here is the essay:

The Power of Educators

By Kelli Etheredge

I believe teachers can transform their students’ lives.  My belief stems from one amazing educator’s influence on me.

Coach Joseph Brown was the man who trained Olympians, and I wanted to be included on his list of prodigies.  That is all I wanted – a coach who could get me to the Olympics.  Unbeknownst to me, Coach Brown’s skills went well beyond his knowledge of hurdling; he was a poet, a philosopher, and a motivator.  Thankfully, Coach Brown saw I needed more than hurdle drills and sprints.  He knew I needed hope.

When we met, I was fourteen.  With divorced parents and an alcoholic father, overachieving was my mantra.  I desperately wanted my dad’s attention, and I passionately believed my perfection would free my mom from worry.  Life was hard.  It hurt.  And no one knew, except Coach Brown.  One practice I showed up and everything began as usual; twenty minutes into a two hour practice, however, Coach said, “we are done.”  I was shocked and disappointed.  I didn’t want to go home; I wanted to run.  But when I packed my bag, he said, “Oh, no, I didn’t mean we are leaving; I just meant we are not running any more today.  We need to talk.”  “About what?” I asked.  “About your feelings,” he replied, “About your life.”  I shook my head and pursed my lips, “Nope, we don’t need to talk about that,” I countered, “We just need to run.”  As I put my spikes back on, I heard him reciting a poem.  I can’t remember the words now, but I do remember the emotion behind it – sadness, pain, fear, and then, oddly enough, hope.  Frustrated, I raised my hands – “What do you want from me?” I cried.  “I want you to write,” he said, “express the feelings you are holding down; share the pain so you can move on to the hope.”  I started writing that day.  Coach Brown gave me a voice when no one else was listening.

From then on, practice became reflective as well as instructive.  Coach Brown was a wonderful story teller.  He lived a tragic life: his dad died when he was four; his mom died when he was eighteen; his Olympic dream was stolen when an eighteen wheeler crashed into his car, leaving him comatose for months and convalescing for a year.  Yet, he was the most peaceful person I ever met.  It made no sense.  Honestly, it angered me.  “Doesn’t it make you mad?” I vented, “Aren’t you furious that you missed the Olympics? It’s not fair!” I screamed.  “But, Kelli,” he calmly replied, “you don’t understand.  Fair is irrelevant.  I see it differently.  If I had gone to the Olympics, I would have never met you.”

He always found the words to help me understand.  At one meet, as I walked up to the heat sheet board, another hurdler groaned, “Uughh, that Kelli Taylor will be in the lane beside me!”  “Please,” her coach quipped, “don’t worry about her; she is just a skinny little white girl.”  I never saw my lane number; I turned on my heel and ran back, crying.  When I recounted what I heard, he asked, “Well, are you a skinny little white girl?”  Stomping my foot, I replied, “Well, yes, sir, I am… but you know what he meant… he is saying I’m a nothing!”  “Are you a nothing?” he probed.  My answer took too long.  “You are if you believe it,” he continued, “Are you going to let them define you?  Or are you going to show them what a skinny little white girl can do?”  I heard him loud and clear – no one can diminish you without your choosing; nothing can stop you if you believe.  I ran the race and won.  I conquered the hurdle of doubt.

Coach Brown passed away thirteen years ago, but he is still with me.  I sense his peace when I am afraid; I hear his encouragement when I doubt; I feel him push me to new heights when I think I can’t go further.

I never became an Olympic hurdler, but Coach Brown changed my life.  Coach’s influence began because of my Olympic dream, but his hope transformed me.  Twenty-seven years later, Coach Brown’s legacy perseveres every time I pass his torch of hope to my students.

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