This past weekend I heard about a project being run by People Admin. They offered money to hear stories about people who inspired you to become a teacher.

So I sat down and whipped up this thank you to a teacher who inspired me to become a teacher. Enjoy —–

In 1990, at the age of 32, I was at a crossroads. My wife and I were both active duty Naval Officers serving aboard ships. Her ship was out of Norfolk, VA and my ship was out of Long Beach, CA. One of us needed to leave active duty. Over dinner we discussed the pros and cons of each of our futures in the Naval Service. My wife turned to me and said the magic words, “ At least you know what you want to do if you get out.” 

At that point she told me that I had always spoken of being a high school math teacher and a baseball coach. I never realized how often I had said that,  but I knew she was right. By the end of 1990 I was out of the active duty Navy and I was enrolled in graduate school. By the end of the Summer of 1992, I had my MSEd and my certification to teach math and science.

Where did this desire come from? Partly from the fact that I had two Great Aunts who were both teachers and my mother was a secretary in an elementary school. It seems that I had always been around educators and their “school talk.” But the main reason I ended up taking this route was because of my high school junior varsity (JV) baseball coach and math teacher – Mr. Pete Austin. 

Mr. Austin was a very demanding coach. You played his way or you didn’t play at all. Our JV baseball teams were a force to be reckoned with in our state. We played hard and we played the game with passion – just like our coach. He showed us that you would be rewarded for hard work.

In the classroom he was equally as demanding and he rewarded students who worked hard. He expected us to stand up and be bold with answers to questions. Wild guesses and “maybes” in a student’s answers were discouraged. And he wasn’t afraid to throw a chalkboard eraser in your direction to keep you on your toes – (always followed by a smile, I should add). 

One of his ways of helping us with low grades was to give a minimum grade of 50 on any assignment. The downside of this was that he would announce the members of the “50/50 Club.” I was a proud member of that club. But at the same time, my math skills were at such a high level that I went on to be a math major. At reunions we still talk about being in that infamous club.

My take away from this interaction was that teachers can be tough and demanding on their students while being compassionate and loving at the same time. There was never any doubt that Mr. Austin cared about us and he wanted us to be the best. That held true whether we were on the baseball diamond or in the classroom. 

I never made it back to thank this person who so inspired me in life. I only hope that one day his family will be able to see this and will take pride in knowing that he made a difference in our lives. What he showed me then is making a difference in my students lives today.

As I work with new teachers I make sure to encourage them to be firm and consistent in their classroom management. I make sure that they understand that they also need to show love and compassion. That’s the way I was treated in my high school pre-calculus class, that’s the way I treat my students, and that’s the way I want my own children to be treated in their classes. 

Thank you Mr. Austin for inspiring me to pursue this incredible journey.

—->   For those of you who remember Mr. Austin, feel free to leave your own memories in the comments below. I know that there are those who were afraid of that chalkboard eraser and Mr. Austin’s style in the classroom and on the baseball field. I obviously loved how he worked and I know it helped make me a better person. So, if you do have any unpleasant memories, please remember to numb the sting before hitting submit.  Thank you.

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