Never underestimate the tremendous impact teachers have on students, helping set the direction of their lives. Studies show that people give credit for their success in the business world to the role models they encountered in youth.
Two teachers played big roles in helping me become a successful businessman.
Prof. Harold Deutsch was my academic adviser at the University of Minnesota. I was enrolled in his class on the history of World War II. Prof. Deutsch had been an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials. He did not teach history; he was part of history.
In the spring quarter of my sophomore year, Prof. Deutsch gave me a D. I went in to plead my case: I said being on the golf team prevented me from giving my classwork my best effort.
"Harvey," he said, "keep this up and you will be able to devote your full time — and it looks like you already have — to pushing that little white ball across a big green lawn. Your excuse is pathetic. I'm not changing the grade. However, I'm going to challenge you, not just to raise your grade, but to get an A in this course when it continues in the fall."
In the fall quarter, I got an A in Prof. Deutsch's class. He should have been graded, too — an A in psychology.
My other mentor was Les Bolstad, the University of Minnesota golf coach. Like all great coaches and teachers, Les did not teach golf. He taught life. If you learned a little golf on the side, well, so much the better. Les was a second father to me.
Today, Mary Mackbee is the principal of St. Paul Central High School, the school I graduated from a few decades ago. She's been there 22 years.
To teachers, she is the boss who is willing to fight to preserve their programs. To parents, she is accessible and approachable. To students, she is simply Ms. Mackbee, who knows 99 percent of the kids' names.
Central is one of the city's most culturally and economically diverse high schools, boasting a 92 percent overall graduation rate. Ms. Mackbee champions Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Quest programs and Central's performing arts offerings.
She commands respect because everyone knows Ms. Mackbee is behind them all the way.
Taylor Mali, poet, humorist and teacher, tells a story about a teacher's value.
One night at dinner, a CEO decided to explain the problem with education: "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?" He challenged another guest, "Hey, Susan, you're a teacher. Be honest, what do you make?"
After some thought, Susan replied: "You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could, and I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. I can make a C-plus feel like the Medal of Honor and an A feel like a slap in the face if the student didn't do his or her very best. I can make parents tremble when I call their home or feel almost like they won the lottery when I tell them how well their child is progressing.
"You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read and read. I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart. And if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make in money, you pay them no attention."
Susan then paused. "You want to know what I make? I make a difference."
I couldn't agree more.
Mackay's Moral: Teachers strive not to teach students to make a living, but to make a life.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail email@example.com.