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The Last Word: The noblest of all professions


Thank you to those teachers who have meant the world to me

By Tony Chavonne

Jane Davenport was brand new at Cumberland Road Elementary School during my first year there as an overweight fourth grader with little self-esteem or confidence. Her approach to teaching included lots of love and attention.

She encouraged me to ask unconventional questions and seemed very excited when I asked her one to which she did not know the answer. I looked forward to trying to stump her with questions like “why is space black when it is closer to the sun than our blue skies are?” She continued to encourage me, and, day by day, she began to lay the building blocks that would allow me to grow in self-confidence for the years ahead.

I continue to stay in contact with Ms. Jane Davenport Kime all these years later. I am excited to open the Christmas cards and notes she sends me telling me how proud she is of the person I have become. I find myself wanting to ask her just one more question, just to see her eyes twinkle with that excitement again.

Teachers are arguably the most important members of our society. They mold our future leaders by giving our children purpose and inspiring them to do well. Sadly, teaching has become an underappreciated profession, and teachers are too often undervalued and underappreciated.

We all carry what we were taught in our youth throughout our entire lives. When reflecting on our teachers, most of us think back to the ones who left a mark on our lives. A favorite teacher’s name can even be one of the personal security questions you can provide to access your bank account. It is impossible for us to think about growing up and not remember a special teacher.

Teachers are important because they shape lives. The best ones inspire and motivate. They challenge and nudge. They explain the complicated. They shape self-confidence. They build adults.

I think back often on other special teachers that impacted my life.

Ken Moody was an intimidating English teacher who loved diagramming sentences, which once was a popular way to teach grammar. Like the rest of my classmates, we dreaded our time at the blackboard drawing the lines that identified subjects and predicates, modifiers and clauses. Little did we know, we were drawing a picture of what language looks like.

Even today, after years of writing business plans, political speeches and, now, magazine columns, I still find myself asking if the words are just right. Ken Moody helped simplify the complex, and in the meantime gave me lifelong tools to better express myself.

Playing high school football exposed me to a new type of teacher. Larry Lancaster was a first-year junior varsity football coach when I arrived at Massey Hill in the late 1960s. Though our country was entwined in Vietnam, with social and political unrest, Coach Lancaster and his crew cut epitomized discipline and brutal honesty that provided me my first dose of the reality of approaching adulthood.

Coach Lancaster was the first person to call me lazy as he challenged me not to coast but rather to strive every day to reach my full potential. His were inspirational words for a football field and for life. And although I’ve been called many things in the decades of my life in business and politics, I’ve never had another person ever say I was lazy. Thank you, Coach.

His words of encouragement continue after all these years. Just a few months ago I received a text message wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. Words can hurt or heal, deflate or inspire. His words continue to light the way for me.

I think back often on the teachers who touched my life. Over the years, there was probably more than a hundred. And while I may have forgotten a few faces and the words, I still remember the way they made me feel.

Some – like Ms. Davenport, Mr. Moody, and Coach Lancaster – had significant impact on my life. But every teacher touched me in some way. With challenge and inspiration, they molded a man. To this very day, I never want to let them down.

As we prepare for a new school year, let’s each share a moment of reflection and a lifetime of appreciation for this noblest among all professions.
Now if I can just avoid the dangling participles