“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The late Nelson Mandela
By Tommie Saylor
Kennedy High School Principal
It was Wednesday. December. 12. 10 p.m.
The world stood still.
I remember it clearly. My wife and I we preparing to go to bed when her phone rang. Seeming unusual that a phone call would come in so late “on a school night”, and knowing that all my children were at home and/or accounted for, I paused to see what the call was all about.
I have a personal philosophy that unless you are dead, dying or bleeding you had better not call me after 9 p.m., so as you could imagine, this call at 10 peaked my curiosity. Unfortunately, this philosophy held true, as my wife turned to look at me, her phone to her ear, with shock and grimace washing across her face. I did not know what was taking place, but after 20 years of marriage I could read that face like a book, and something was seriously wrong.
My wife said very little to the mysterious caller on the other end of the phone before ending the call, then looked at me and told me that it was my sister on the phone, and she informed her that my mother became gravely ill, was rushed to the hospital, and passed away. My mom was dead. I swear, the world stopped -- not for very long, yet a clear pause. No sound, no movement, just a flash of every memory I ever had with my mother running through my mind in a single second.
My mother was a teacher, a real teacher’s teacher. She was short, not quite reaching five-feet tall, pale, had piercing emerald green eyes, and her hair pulled back into a bun most of her life. She was what we would consider the old-fashioned stereotypical classroom teacher. But man was she tough!
She demanded the absolute best from her students, and may God help you if you tried to give her anything less than your absolute best. She called parents daily, held lunch and after-school tutoring sessions and spent all weekend grading papers, entering grades in her grade book and calculating grades (days before computers and you had to calculate grades by hand), she even accepted phone calls from students in the evening hours needing help on homework, and even held the occasional weekend tutoring session at our kitchen table when a student was in need.
Simply, she demanded the absolute best from her students, she also demanded the absolute best from herself, giving her students every ounce she could.
My mother was also tricky. Attached you should find a picture of me when I was still a young man in the Army. I took several days of leave I had built up and came home from West Germany in mid-November to, believe it or not, go hunting with my father. My mother made me promise to spend one of these days with her in her classroom to talk to her students about what is was like to be in the Army and to serve in West Germany.
This was my first experience being before students in a classroom environment, little did I know it would not be my last.
She saw something in me, and when I left the Army she pushed me into taking a class in the College of Education after enrolling at Western Michigan University. “Try it,” she said. “If you do not like it, you do not
have to take another.”
One class lead to another, then another, the next thing I knew I was on my way to earning a teaching certificate. After several years of hard work the day came where I was able to show my mother my very first Teaching Certificate, and I will never forget the words she spoke to me.
She took a long look at my certificate, touching the location where my name was printed, then snapped her head up looking deep into my eyes and said, “Now do some good with this.”
This challenge I now pass on to you: Your teaching certificate is more than just a piece of paper, it is a license to change the lives of every student in your classroom. It is a license to mold, shape, and most of all, inspire the greatness that hides deep inside every student in your class.
This is not done by allowing your students to “slide by.” It is done by awaking the genius that lies deep within, by holding them to standards that pry their potential from their apathy, or by not being accepting of “lame” excuses and “weak” explanations.
It is “done” by accepting from your students nothing less than their absolute best.
It is done by forcing students to adhere to school-wide standards, like properly wearing their ID cards around their neck. By enforcing hall sweeps and not allowing them in your classroom after the bell rings. By not issuing hall passes the first 10 minutes or the last 10 minutes of class.
It is done by not being accepting of students failing to turn in assignments, or turning in assignments half completed or unfinished. It is done by not allowing your students to “get away” with half-hearted efforts or “sloppy” work that is clearly well below their potential.
By enforcing school initiatives and being unrelenting in our demand for excellence, we are teaching students a life lesson that specific standards placed before you by those in authority (your boss) must be observed if you wish to get anywhere in life. Allowing students to be “rebellious” and slack on these initiatives and in their efforts will instill within them a sense that it is OK to be late to work (court or appointments), that it is OK to ignore security procedures and/or not do what your boss desires.
You cannot say that it is OK to get up and leave your work environment or your assigned location whenever the mood strikes, that laziness and minimal efforts are “good enough” and accepted in the “real world.”
When our students enter the workforce after high school with these negative beliefs, how can we sit back and wonder why they find it difficult to keep a job.
If you truly care about your students, if you are truly concerned about their quality of life after leaving our hallowed halls, then show your concern by demanding from them their absolute best efforts and their compliance, while giving to them everything you got, and then some. It is better to be hated today and loved for all tomorrows, than to be loved today and forgotten forever.
I cursed God when he took my mother, but two days later I understood. At least in my mind, the good Lord knew that he would soon have a classroom full of young students who were in need of a good teacher (the Sandy Hook massacre took place two days later on the 14th of December), and my mother was just the right teacher for these little angels who would need so much as they filled her classroom in the sky.
Remember, their future is in our hands. Making Kennedy the school of choice. Excellence by design.