It’s an uncomfortable truth that some teachers can sometimes be real jerks. Now I firmly believe that teaching is a noble profession that gets far too little respect and that those who are harsh and off-putting almost always do NOT intend to come across that way but rather it’s a misunderstanding. That said, you can probably think of a few examples in your own life or the lives of others.
My father told the story of one such teacher from his high school days. He had grown up in rural Indiana during the Great Depression and was your typical farm kid of the day. What was different about him was he wanted to see the world beyond the back 40 acres. He told me of that once he and a teacher were talking about airplanes and flight and my father chimed into the lecture saying he’d like to fly someday. The teacher laughed him off saying, “Raymond, you’ll never fly in a plane. You’re just a kid from Butler, Indiana who’ll live and die a farmer. It’s what you were born to do”.
I’m certain the teacher never thought twice about what he’d said nor did he think it was out of line. It was, but all standards of Hoosier common sense, a practical statement of fact that reflected the fact that farming was steady work and dreams were of a pain-inducing waste of time because if they don’t have a prayer of coming true. The idea at that time in America was ‘accept your fate and live out your life the best you can with what you get’.
That would normally be the end of the story except for the events of December 7th, 1941. My father, like most teenagers of his day, enlisted the following week. One would have thought that given the fact my father was by all accounts the top marksman in the county and a skilled outdoorsman would have signed up for the Infantry. It was what he was good at. He could excel there.
Well, he joined the US Army- but the US Army Air Force (who was in charge of airpower at the time). He got not only to fly but to teach others how to shoot. It turns out that they USAAF needed gunnery instructors too. He went on to serve his country and teach others to do the same. This simple Hoosier farm kid went up into the sky when it was still only the privilege of a few to do so. He also learned radio and radar, the high tech fields of their day. When he returned from the war he left the farm and spent the remainder of his days not plowing a field, but working with electronics and eventually computers.
He followed his dream, not the safe path. The risk paid off and he got to fly and see the world. The most heroic act wasn’t in protecting Allied shipping in the Atlantic, but in daring to go beyond what he was ‘supposed’ to do.
I wonder if teachers of the Wright brothers, when they sharing their opinion that gliders just needed better engines to become full airplanes, were ever told by their teachers to just “stick to bikes, you’re good at it and can make a good living”? Had they taken that advice somebody would have eventually invented a successful airplane, and when the brothers read the news they might have uttered the saddest phrase of every dreamer who hid their gift: “That could have been me.”
Everyone has a dream of some kind. Some are detailed plans and some are just a vague nudging in a certain direction. Not every dream is worth pursuing and not every dream will come to life. But that doesn’t mean you should ever tell someone that their dream isn’t worth following. Even if you never follow yours, the least you can do is not stop somebody else. You might find that by giving them permission to try, you might find you’ve given yourself permission too.