Five Lessons I Learned from My Dad.

Father’s Day Weekend is always a mixed bag of emotions for me.  

Given that I am the proud father of a six year old girl who loves her Dad times ten, I will spend most of my weekend smiling.  There’s just something beautiful about the effort that six year olds put into showing you that they care.  Whether she makes me a hand-drawn card, whips up a special father’s day breakfast of cookies and Capri Suns, or just wants to cuddle on the couch for a while, I will feel the joy that comes along with being the Dad of a daughter!

But I always miss my own Dad on Father’s Day Weekend.

Watching other people spending time with their fathers reminds me of what I lost when he passed away four years ago.  There are lots of moments when I wish I had the chance to learn from and laugh with him just one more time.  There’s just something comforting about knowing that the man who believed in you is still standing on your sideline, ready to cheer you on.

What I realized this morning, though, is that I haven’t lost my father.

In fact, if you look carefully at who I’ve become as a teacher and as a man, you can see him every single day.  He taught me to:

Laugh often, laugh loud, and never take yourself too seriously:  I believe classrooms should be places where laughter is the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.  Why shouldn’t there be a place for playfulness in our lives every day?  That’s something you could always count on from my Dad — he was above all a prankster who loved to tease more than anything — and it’s something that I try to carry with me into most school days.

But never, ever quit:  My Dad was one of the most determined people that I ever knew.  He never gave up on anything — no matter how difficult the task seemed.  And he never let ME give up on anything, either.  You worked to mastery no matter how long that took.  I try to pass that persistence — that sense of “Why quit?  There’s nothing you can’t do!” — along to the kids in my classroom.

Make your own discoveries:  The moments I love the most in my classroom are the moments when one of my students asks me an interesting wonder question about an experiment that we are tinkering with.  Usually, they want me to give them an answer.  My response is straight from my Dad:  “Cool question.  Let’s try it!”  The message I’m trying to send is that YOUR discoveries — no matter how simple they may seem — are more important than what I may know.

Fight for right:  I’m pretty outspoken — intense, even — with the kids in my classroom about their obligation to stand up to the injustice that they see around them.  “Staying silent when you see bullying or unfairness,” I’ll say, “is to fail people who need you.”  That’s a lesson I learned from my Dad, who was willing to speak up to anyone, anytime, and about anything that seemed unfair.

Being strict isn’t a bad thing:  If you asked the kids in my classroom, they’d probably tell you that I can be a pretty strict guy.  If their behavior isn’t acceptable — if they are off-task or inappropriate or irresponsible — I’m going to call them on it.  But I think they’d also tell you that even when I’m “fussing” at them, they know that I care about them and am trying to help them to improve both as learners and as people.  That’s a tricky balance I learned from my Dad — who I never wanted to disappoint, but who I never doubted either.

Being a teacher is a lot like being a father, isn’t it?

Sure, I’m charged with teaching the content detailed in my sixth grade science curriculum.  But what I’m REALLY charged with is teaching the kids in my sixth grade classroom — and that takes a heck of a lot more than knowing how light reacts when it travels through a new medium or why our Earth’s tectonic plates are always shifting.  It takes a commitment to showing kids that who they are is almost always more important than what they know — lessons that I learned from my Dad.

Long story short:  The teacher I have become is a reflection of the father that I had.  For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Miss you, Pops.  And love you.  Always.

___________________

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