John R. Wooden is undeniably one of the most accomplished and revered icons in the history of American sports. For those of us old enough to remember him, the former UCLA basketball coach who passed away in 2010 at the age of 99, is a shining example of success:
- 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships;
- 16 Final Four appearances;
- An 88-game winning streak (still a record today);
- The first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach;
- The John R. Wooden Award (the Heisman Trophy of college basketball) is given annually to both the outstanding male and female players.
But despite all the accolades, John Wooden always saw himself first and foremost as a teacher. In his 27-years at UCLA, he continued to teach English classes to underclassmen. It was a profession the humble legend, who began his career as a high school teacher and coach, saw as sacred.
“Profound responsibilities come with teaching and coaching,” Wooden once said. “You can do so much good–or harm. It’s why I believe that next to parenting, teaching and coaching are the two most important professions in the world.”
I was born and raised in Los Angeles and John Wooden was like a surrogate grandfather to me. Though I never met him, his lessons guided and inspired me. I became (and still am) a follower of the coach’s Seven-Point Creed and his Pyramid of Success.
As I was recently re-reading Coach Wooden’s biography, They Call Me Coach, I was inspired to explore my own life as a teacher. In the end, I felt the motivation, after more than 10-years as an educator, to explore the question: Why do I teach? Here’s what I came up with:
- I Teach Because of My Parents: Pietro and Rosina Rose both arrived in the United States from Italy as teenagers in the late 50s. They went straight into the labor force and while they both earned their G.E.D.’s, neither could afford to continue their education. This was not lost on their three children. My parents made education the center of our lives. Applying yourself to your studies was imperative in our house. Teachers were to be respected and appreciated. Education was a path to being who you wanted to be. Years (and several college degrees) later, my brother, my sister (also a teacher) and I still hold these lessons close to our hearts.
- I Teach Because of my Own Teachers: I spent 12-years attending Catholic Schools. Apart from a modicum of guilt, the most important thing my Catholic education taught me was to love and have compassion for others, especially those less fortunate. Endless hours spent with selfless teachers (priests, nuns, and lay) continue to inspire me today. My high school years were spent under the tutelage of the Society of Jesus. Anyone who has had the honor and privilege of a Jesuit education will tell you that from day one, beyond everything you learn in the classroom, the desire to be a “man for others” is at the center of everything you do.
- I Teach Because of Media: Following my high school years, I went on to college and studied media. I was good at it. I ended up with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in media-related fields and had a long and successful career in journalism and public relations. But one day I woke up. Despite the wonderful things media have brought us as a society, I began to focus on the variety of negative effects media have, especially on young people. The information age is depleting young people of their individuality and self-esteem. Our media-driven society has created a culture based on instant access to products, services, trends, and the mindless consumption of them all. A major reason I came to teaching is to help my students find themselves, their true selves, apart from the endless messages they receive to do the opposite.
- I Teach Because of my Colleagues: I’ve worked in a lot of different places with a lot of different people, but no profession provides the camaraderie and sense of community that teaching does. Some of my best friends and my true inspirations in life are my fellow educators. There is nothing like going to work each day and spending it with people you love and admire.
- I Teach Because of my Students: Working with young people is a calling. Some days are more difficult than others, but when you reflect on it, there is nothing that is more fulfilling – for me, aside from being a parent, nothing even comes close. I get to spend the majority of my time helping to motivate and prepare young people to grow, evolve, and discover that they are themselves special. The rewards of this endeavor are constant. The more I give, the more I truly receive. Coach Wooden was fond of reminding us, “Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”
So, for whatever it’s worth, this is where I come from – sort of my own little foundation and blueprint for “why I teach.” But an ulterior motive for me to write this blog entry is to not only provide information, but to obtain it, as well! I have a simple request for any and all of you reading this: I want to hear your stories. I want to know “why YOU teach” and/or how teachers have impacted you. Ultimately, I’d love to build a little inspirational repository for educators and others to come to when they need motivation and encouragement.
Just below this entry there is a “Comments” link. If you are a teacher, click it and tell us “why you teach.” If you’re not an educator, click it and write us a little story about a teacher who inspired and influenced you. Take a few minutes to reflect — if it’s anything like my own reflection, those few minutes can make a huge difference.