The best leaders are the result of great teachers.
In my opinion, teaching is the greatest and most impactful profession of all. It is because of how teachers engage, influence, and inspire people of all ages: the young, the old, and the adult. What separates great teachers is their ability to get people to believe in themselves. That belief encourages students to do more than they and others thought they could. Unfortunately, most teachers and leaders focus on what you currently know, and most tests focus on your ability to remember. Exceptional teachers focus on your ability and desire to learn and then apply that learning.
Dr. Rayford Watts, my college English Literature professor, is the teacher who made the greatest difference in my life. He encouraged me to think bigger, reach higher and believe in myself. I took his class during my sophomore year. That year, I was redshirting because I had major surgery on both knees and was recuperating. I was in college on a basketball scholarship and many people thought, including myself, that I wouldn’t play again, or if I did, it wouldn’t be at the same level. During this period, I went from being a big man on campus to no one. Basketball was going to be my ticket to a better life. It had now gotten punched and looked seriously in doubt. I was very down. Dr. Watts gave us an assignment to read a poem to write our interpretation. The poem was “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats. I had terrible grammatical skills, so I never cared that much for writing. I dreaded getting papers back because there would be so many red marks you would have thought the teacher was bleeding while grading.
For some reason, this time was different. I opened up and wrote about how down I was feeling and how, like the poem, I was going to go to my Innisfree; however, to get there, I would have to transform myself from being a basketball player in college to a college student who played basketball. After I turned in my paper, I got nervous thinking about all of those damn red marks on my previous English papers. In addition, I was terrible at interpreting poems, so I started wondering if I interpreted it correctly. (What a one-two knockout punch that would have been: bad grammar and bad interpretation!)
The next class, we got our papers back. I will never forget seeing that big red “A” in the upper left-hand corner! To the right of it, Dr. Watts wrote: “Great interpretation! Now let’s work on your grammar.” He met with me after class to discuss my paper, life goals, and provide me with writing tips. He even gave me a book on the fundamentals of grammar to use. The rest is history. I finished college as an Academic All-American, Scholar Athlete, MVP of the team, and All-Conference player. I also went on to write a book. Amazing, simply amazing!
What made Dr. Watts so special? He saw me as a person who was searching for inner peace and capable of so much more--not just a basketball player or college student. He played a crucial role in opening my mind and getting me to see myself in a whole different way. As a result, my goals and aspirations got higher, as did my definition of success. I also stopped worrying about getting red marks and being wrong.
Summary: Behind every great leader is a very special teacher--someone who caused you to see your Innisfree, find your inner peace and believe that you can achieve it. Dr. Watts, The best way I have tried to thank you is by assisting leaders to become better teachers because work is the biggest classroom of all.