Nobility is dignity. Because of the potential to achieve a real purpose, any work done well can lead to dignity. In our time every citizen can feel a sense of mission, place and importance. Every task can be considered an act of service to our nation when the essence of that task is being achieved. In this way every act can be an act of public service. And in this way every kind of work can be noble.
A Simple Teacher
Knopf, an English teacher at Mariner High School, retired after 38 years in the
school district. In simple terms, what
this means is that he was just starting in the district when Mariner High
School's first class was graduating. The year of his start was 1972, the year I graduated from Mariner High
School. But what does this retirement
mean? Can it only be best quantified in
simple terms or is it best quantified in more complicated terms?
Does it mean: "Those who can do and those who can't teach?" This is what my down home farm relatives said to me when I told them that I had just earned my teaching certificate. They did not mean it as a joke. Is this an accurate view of what teaching is or does the task of teaching have a deeper more special significance?
Let's start with a discussion of
quantification. High school teachers,
teach multiple classes in one day. Perhaps they see as many as 100 students a day. But let's make it easier on us. Let's assume that the High School Teacher's
class load is like that of an elementary school teacher.
When I taught sixth grade I had 35 students for the year. If you take 35 and multiply it by 38 years you get 1,330. This means, at minimum, Mr. Knopf gave personal instruction to 1,330 different people. He gave instruction to 1,330 people approximately 39 weeks of the year or 195 days. In terms of days, 195 over 38 years is 7,410 days. And when you think of it, each of those 1,330 people received 195 days or so of instruction for a total of 259,350 units of instructional contact -- at minimum. So if those who can do and those who can't teach, then those who can't are partaking in a huge amount of nothing. But, deep down we know this isn't true.
Deep inside we know that all of those instructional
contacts are important. In fact, when
it comes to teachers, we know that they are important both in quantity and in
Almost everyone I know has their own story -- a
story of how a teacher who inspired them or had faith in them changed their
lives. My personal story is also about
a Mariner High School Teacher. Her name
is Ann Kashiwa.
When she was my teacher I was star football
player. Then I dislocated my
shoulder. My doctor told me not to
play. But my coaches encouraged me to
keep playing. They even said they would
have a special set of shoulder pads made that would chain my arm down so that
it could not get in the dislocating position.
I considered that. I considered playing at less than my physical best. And while I was thinking about it those who wanted me to play tried one more thing. They told me that if I did not turn out for football I would never have a chance to go to college because my only shot was to go on an athletic scholarship.
I was shocked. Up until that moment I had never really thought about it. I was on ok B-average student but here they
were telling me that my whole future depended on my body and not my mind. Then I got angry. It was insulting. I
realized that they were telling me that because I was black my only hope was to
be an athlete. This hurt me very
deeply. And then I got real scared
because I also thought what if they are right?
I was deeply depressed. One day, my Humanities teacher, Ann Kashiwa noticed my state of
mind. She laid out the options. She taught me to have faith in my mind. She taught me that I was more than my body.
After that talk I dropped athletics to concentrate on academics. And for me in my life that decision has made
all the difference.
I spent two years reinventing myself from athlete
to scholar. And in the end this meant
SAT testing; becoming a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist, undergraduate school
at Stanford University and the University of Washington.
I received my law degree from Harvard Law School
and this led to my first law job as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in King
County. As a baby lawyer, in my second
year, I successfully prosecuted a mentally ill young man who stalked and
planned to kill a doctor, his wife and his two daughters. The entire family was saved. He received a prison sentence of 20 years. The case was on National TV in 1988 before
the days of Court TV.
This was just the beginning of my career. I am just
one person. Think of all of the other
1,329 people whom she, and teachers like Tim, have affected and how those they
taught have affected others. Imagine
all of the other benefits, large and small, this group of people has been able
to bestow on society. Looking at it
from this point of view couldn't teaching be considered a public service?