I don’t usually focus too much on “Days”, even though my dear friend and colleague, Mike Kerr reminds us every day what “Day” it is. Today (October 5, 2015) is World Teacher Day. I hope you don’t mind my taking to the soapbox for some gushing words on the importance of teachers…especially mine.
I’m sure many of you know my speech and/or my book (Alvin’s Laws of Life) so you may know the story I am going to write about today but it is my favourite and I believe, the most impactful story of my life. As I do in my program, I ask the audience to picture it in “real time”.
In Spring of 1971, while I was at school in 5th Grade, my Mom got a phone call that went like this:
McClary: “Hello, Mrs. Law? My name is Blaine McClary and I am the head director for the Yorkton Public School Band Program. Do you have a son named Alvin?
Mom: “Yes I do”
McClary: “Does he have an interest or talent in music?”
Mom: “He Loves music, whether he’s talented or not, can’t say”
McClary: “Well Mrs. Law, all fifth graders in town have to take a music aptitude test and your son got 96%.”
Mom: “Wow. That’s a good mark”.
McClary: “Indeed, one of the best in town. Do you think your son would like to join the band?”
Mom: “Uuhm…sure. Uuhm, a couple of questions first?”
Mom: “Did you have an instrument in mind?”
McClary: “Well, with that kind of talent, I’m inclined to make this offer. Why don’t you bring your son to the High School sometime and he can pick any instument he wants to play?”
Mom: “That is very generous of you sir. I’m sure Alvin will be excited. Can I ask one more question? Have you met him?”
McClary: “No maam, just have his phone number here…I’m going through a list of the higher scores!”
Mom: “Mr. McClary. I suppose this is an important time to tell you…Alvin sort of has no arms!”
Mom: “Mr. McClary? Are you still there? Hello?”
McClary: “I am so sorry Mrs. Law. I did not know that. Obviously, that could be a problem. I don’t know what to say except I am sorry. Clearly, this won’t work out. Say hi to your son and have a nice day.”
Then he hung up. Don’t be so surprised. Wouldn’t you? Look, this is a predictable story and the story I have told consistently since 1976 when I was an Easter Seals “Timmy” (poster child) as a story illustrating what a difference one person can make in another person’s life. See? Predictable. But let’s approach it a different way for a bit here.
Would you call back? Not judging, just asking. And by the way, I am completely aware that there are all kinds of “over achievers” in life and not everyone is a “super teacher” who wears an invisible cape! That is obvious! But it is a good question, isn’t it? Let me finish the story.
Mom never told me about the phone call from Mr. McClary. She knew it would disappoint me and frankly, she kept countless disapoointments from me. But on a very memorable day in 1971, I walked in the house after school and Mom had a huge smile on her face. She was normally not this animated. She excitedly told me about the first phone call, how the band director hung up and how she kept it from me. Then she sprung the news that earlier in the day, he had called back. Six weeks after the first phone call, he phoned back. I was going to be in the band! But what instrument? If you don’t know this story, please picture what instrument you’d imagine I could play! Are you thinking about it?
Were you thinking Trombone? Doubt it! I will dispense with the more descriptive story I tell on stage but I will ask you again…did you guess trombone? Mr. McClary did. Don’t know how, don’t know why? By the way, the trombone was mounted on a wooden teacher’s chair with metal rods and clamps and I used the slide with my right foot. It may have been a trombone but for me it was so much more. It was like a magic wand. It transformed my life! It gave me so many gifts. It taught me practice. It taught me discipline, success, failure. It gave me pride and determination, and it introduced me to the best friends I would ever have…musicians. It steered me to a life of entertaining and performance and I firmly believe I am who I am today and do what I do today because of Blaine McClary. Clearly, he wasn’t the only person and not the only teacher but on World Teachers Day, he is who I think of immediately.
I want to wrap up with a few thoughts and questions. Why aren’t we more supportive of our schools and teachers? Why don’t they get the respect they deserve as Professionals. Why do we take our kid’s side instead of the teacher’s? If we had a bad school experience, why did we blame the school and teachers instead of looking in a mirror?
I admit my bias but I believe teachers get a hugely bad rap and whether or not a measly little blog can make a difference or not, I encourage you to reach out today and thank a teacher who changed your life. Sadly, Blaine Mcclary died a while back but he knew how much I loved him. Lastly, are you being a good example to others like teachers can be? You don’t have to “be” a teacher, but maybe the best way to put it is this. Are you a “giver” or a “taker”? I think the connection is obvious!