Looking Back: Teachers Are My Heroes

(Note:  A speech to elementary and middle schools teachers.)

Thank you for your time this afternoon.  The real intent for being here is to once and for all find out what really happens during “Teacher In-Service Days.”  And, to validate the widely held belief that these meetings are used to further the conspiracy against the parents and students of St. Andrew!!

Seriously, I am here because of the fondness and respect I have for this school, everything it stands for, and all of the people that provide this safe and academically nurturing community.  Today, I want to talk to about heroes.  Heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things at an extraordinary time.  This is a room full of HEROES and a room full of EXTRAORDINARY people.

Growing Up

I would like to tell you a story about a young boy.  He started kindergarten at four years old in Southfield, Michigan.  He had neither the maturity or ability of his classmates and quickly fell behind, and was LEFT behind.  It would take a long, long time for this boy to ever catch up.  C’s, D’s, and F’s became his elementary school legacy.  A.D.D. and Dyslexia didn’t exist, so he was labeled, perhaps rightly so, an academically-challenged child with a behavioral problem.  In most education circles – it was the kiss of death.

Struggle became his life.  He was the only student given spelling test words three days in advance.  One of a few students in the S.R.A Reading Program (he read a lot “Sea Hunt” books in 6th grade), and with an inability to articulate because of a stuttering impairment, he spiraled ever so consistently, out of control.

His physical size was also a concern.  As a 5th grader, he was still smaller than most third grade students.  So small, that his homeroom teacher once asked him how it felt like to be “so tiny.”

He didn’t learn that he was “different” until the 7th grade.  The morning before the new school year began he rode his bike to school to pick-up his class schedule.  He was headed to Birney Junior High!  When he returned home, he showed his mom his schedule and asked her what the “R” in parenthesis after almost every class meant.  His mom told him the word that he didn’t want to hear – remedial.

Not that he actually knew what it meant, so she explained that too.  It devastated him.  For he knew, or at least thought, that he was not as “good” as everyone else.  He was the “dumb” boy.  In the “dumb class.”  And what ever measuring stick was used – it was clear that he didn’t measure up.

High school brought other challenges.  His family moved 1,200 miles from the only place he ever called home.  A motorcycle accident at 15 almost killed him.  It didn’t, but he was hospitalized for a month with internal bleeding and a broken femur.  He didn’t walk for a year.  And his ever-growing liability of a bullet-proof mentality and rebel attitude rubbed, in every way, against the grain.  He did graduate from high school.  Barely.  Then, it was on to college.

As you have probably figured out by now, this story is MY STORY.  It is still humbling and still difficult at times to talk about.  The human mind has a way of blocking out the pain of the past, doesn’t it?

This is My Story

I am telling you this story today because through it all….there were three teachers who saved my life, They literally saved my life.  They were just like you…and today they are the great heroes of my life.  Each teacher found a way, in their own way, to connect with me and impact my life.  Each teacher gave to me the special gift of time and undivided attention, even when I repelled against it.  Each teacher taught me and instilled in me a “life lesson” that still shines brightly within me.

I am here today to tell you that you are all HEROES.  Sure, you are under-paid. Under-valued.  And under-appreciated.  But, you are HEROES and what you do, in every way, is heroic.  You change the lives of our children.  You inspire them.  You give them hope and strength.  You teach them how to dream.  And every day, you give them back to us a little more nurtured, shaped, molded, and polished than they were when we dropped them off at 7:30 am.

You have both power and position to change lives, and I stand in front of you this afternoon in awe and with a great admiration and respect for your talent, passion and commitment.

My Heroes

Mr. Krass was my Leonard Elementary School gym teacher.  He was a tall athletic man and a former minor league baseball player.  This giant of a man taught me how to set goals, make the effort and sacrifice needed to reach them and gave to me the gifts of determination and competitive spirit.

He inspired the smallest of the small to become a Top 10 goal scorer in hockey and a Michigan State Summer Olympics champion.  Today, he is responsible for my drive and success as a businessman and my determination to be an involved father.

Mr. Orsarges was my junior high math teacher.  He was one of those “beautiful people,” a model and on the cover of a women’s nylon stockings product.  In seventh grade math, remedial math, he never stopped encouraging me.  He convinced me to go to summer school – he didn’t convince my parents – he convinced me.  Summer school allowed me to be in the regular math class in 8th grade and Mr. Orsarges was once again my teacher.  He made it a big event each time he handed out our graded tests.  And every time he handed it to me, he told the entire class how proud he was and how much I had improved in the past year.  He made me feel like…like a normal person.  His gift to me was dedication and perseverance. He taught me that, “nothing worth while ever comes easy.”  He gave me back my self-confidence and self-esteem.  And, many of you who know me, know I have never lost it again.

Mr. David Heath was the head of our speech and drama department in high school.  R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton.  I took a drama class in my junior year because it was the easiest class I could sign up for.  Being a “path of least resistance guy,” it was the sure way to “slide by” again.  Within the first two months of school, I gave my drama teacher every reason to throw me out of his class and he did.  He sent me to Mr. Heath’s office where I am certain a miracle took place that day.

Mr. Heath asked me only one question. He said, “Jerry, if you could be anything you wanted to be, what would you be?”  I told him a sports play-by-play announcer.  He looked into my eyes and said, “why don’t you try TV?”  Up until that moment, I had never thought about a career in radio or TV.  In fact, I had never thought about a career.  And at that moment, Mr. Heath forever and ever, changed my life.

He put me on the speech and drama tournament team and I began the journey of being a print journalist, television sportscaster, ABC Television Network college football producer, and local TV station news director and station manager.  Today, I own several companies that develop television programs, innovate local newscast and marketing strategies, and train and coach the top television on-air personalities and Fortune 500 executives in the country.

All because of one man.  One teacher. One hero.  Mr. David Heath.

One Class At A Time

This room is full of them, too.

I am hopeful that the next time you face an academically challenged kid, a class clown kid, a disrespectful kid, a troubled or struggling kid, or a poorly parented kid, that you will realize the important and life changing impact you can have on these kids’ lives.

About 12 years ago, I launched a community initiative in more than 50 cities across the country called One Class At A Time.  It is a community program that uses the financial and marketing power of a local television station to award local teachers and classrooms a cash gift that can be used for two purposes:  To purchase the tools a teacher needs to enhance the classroom learning experience, or to purchase supplies for students whose families’ can’t afford them, which places the burden of out-of-pocket expenses on the teacher.  Because most classroom issues are tied to “funding,” this initiative is trying to address the needs of a classroom, one at a time.

Today, we award a grant of $16,000, or $400 to each teacher at St. Andrew.  These grants are to be used at the sole discretion of each teacher and in a way that each teacher believes is most effective for their classroom. For a young boy who was be given so much by teachers, it is the very least that he can do.  Unfortunately, you will continue to be under-paid, under-valued and almost certainly under-appreciated.  But, you will always be a shining star and a beam of light to your students.  You will always be someone that truly makes a difference.  And, you will always be HEROES.

Thank you and God bless you!

This entry was posted on Sunday, April 16th, 2017 at 11:41 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Looking Back: Teachers Are My Heroes”

  1. Gail Beale Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful story on how a good/great teacher can have the best impact on a studen/child that just needs someone to have faith in them and show them the way! Your two Southfield also had very wonderful impacts on our sons who attended Leonhard and Barney!

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