Disclosure: I am an Office Depot REAL Change blog ambassador. This post is part of a campaign where I was compensated for my time. To learn more about REAL Change, visit their website.
After I graduated from college, I lived with two good friends who were in a teaching Master’s program at UCLA. As I was working ridiculous hours in a glamorous ad agency to create banner ads that showed things like cars playing pinball, they were learning how to shape the next generation of, well, us. I was in awe of them, and quickly learned that being a teacher is so much more than checking standards off a list. In watching them, I realized that I may not remember specific lessons my teachers taught me, but I did remember what they taught me about myself.
At the time, watching my friends’ hard work actually inspired me to write a letter of thanks to my favorite teacher from high school. I don’t remember exactly what the letter said, but I do remember feeling like he’d be proud of me. Not because I was following in his footsteps — which had been my plan back in high school — but because I dug down deep to be the best I could be. Just like he’d taught me.
The funny thing about my favorite teacher, Mr. Zumbro, is that he was a math teacher. Yes, really. I used to be really good at math. Geometry, to be exact. Back at the vulnerable age of 14, I loved numbers. They were concrete. If I could prove something was right, it must actually be right. Words, well, they weren’t a sure thing. And since I wasn’t so sure of myself, I did my best to stay under the radar in subjective classes.
Mr. Zumbro, he didn’t let me stay under the radar. In fact, he did just the opposite. He pulled me up and helped me to shine. It started with a challenge. Not just in a teacher-gives-the-kids-a-motivating-pep-talk kind of way. He quite literally, but playfully, told me that there was a student in his other geometry class that was doing better than I was. Each week, he’d challenge us to do our individual best, but also to outperform the other. While this might have backfired for some kids, he knew us. He knew this was the perfect motivator. One that would foster a friendship, build our confidence, and turn a subject we were pretty good at into something we loved. I have no doubt he found equally effective and unique ways to motivate other students in his classes as well.
Mr. Zumbro loved math. He loved teaching. But most of all, he loved making a connection with his students and watching them grow. That. That was what I wanted to do, too. And math was the obvious path.
As we all know, the obvious path sometimes ends up being a dead end. For me that dead end was calculus — even though Mr. Zumbro tried to help me through my horribly rocky relationship with the calculus teacher. It seemed as my faith in numbers faltered, my faith in myself strengthened. I became fascinated with words and their power. So instead of math, I majored in Communications.
When I wrote Mr. Zumbro my letter of thanks as a fairly new college grad, I certainly didn’t expect a reply. But I got one. Because, of course, he was still the same teacher who was proud to see his student growing and learning. I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well, you may not be working with numbers, but you’re obviously doing what you’re supposed to be doing. So keep on writing.” Those words, all those years later, they were just what I needed. And I’m guessing he knew that — even hundreds of miles away.
It’s because of amazing teachers like my college friends, Mr. Zumbro, and another good friend I have who has made a huge impact on her students this year, that I’m thrilled to be working with Office Depot — a retailer that gets schools, that truly cares about teachers and their challenges, and understands what they need to thrive. Office Depot is proudly sponsoring the emotional Artists for Education TV Special — featuring top musical acts and highlighting the heroic role of education and teachers. The star-studded event airs on CBS tomorrow, Tuesday, April 23rd. Be sure to check your local listings or watch it exclusively online at http://www.officedepot.com/realchange. Office Depot is a “presenting sponsor” of the REAL Change broadcast and an official retail partner.
I encourage you to check out the trailer to learn more about the special and the artists involved with it:
What about you? Who was your favorite teacher? Give them a shout out here!