A Tale of Two Teachers

Think teachers don’t make a massive impact in our lives? Think again.

 At the conclusion of a recent Leave Nothing Unsaid workshop, a participant named Bruce shared a riveting story from his middle school years. Bruce is now in his early 60’s, yet he recounted the details of this narrative like they happened yesterday.
 
As an 8th grade student, Bruce had been placed in a remedial English class even though he was an advanced student. Needless to say, he was beyond bored. To make matters worse, his teacher specialized in focusing on her students’ negative qualities, with particular daily attention given to Bruce’s shortcomings. 
 
Day after day, “Nellie Negative” found something about Bruce to criticize. Assignments were never good enough. Affirming words were clearly a foreign and unknown language to this teacher. She looked for reasons to regularly send Bruce to the principal’s office.
 
Bruce became so frustrated and demoralized that he eventually stopped doing his homework assignments altogether. Zero, zero, zero for all of the missing work.
 
His mother finally had enough. She knew that Bruce’s failing grades were not a reflection of her son’s potential. She marched into the school and DEMANDED that her son be transferred into the advanced English class.
 
The school responded. Not only was Bruce finally challenged with the content of the new class, he also had the great fortune of being assigned to a teacher who was an expert in the power and practice of sincere encouragement of his students.
 
“Tony, the Terrific Teacher” never let a day go by without speaking words of life into each student. In addition, he took the time to write students handwritten notes to celebrate what they were doing right.  That intentional affirmation motivated all of the students in his class to pursue excellence and Bruce’s English grades quickly rocketed from F’s to A’s. 
 
Bruce’s eyes sparkled when he described the positive impact that this teacher had on him and on countless others. The teacher’s real name was Mr. Yates. He deserves to be celebrated for the immeasurable positive impact he had on innumerable young people. 
 
Exhibit A for Mr. Yates’ influence: Bruce! Today, Dr. Bruce Hebel leads a thriving ministry and has written, along with his wife Toni, a powerful book entitled Forgiving Forward that is transforming lives and relationships all over the world. What impact did Mr. Yates have on Bruce’s lifetime accomplishments? Of course, that is very hard to measure. But certainly, his encouragement propelled Bruce forward on a wonderful trajectory. 
 
Friends, this isn’t just a story about the enormous positive (and negative) impact a teacher can make. Yes, we need to do a much better job of affirming and thanking teachers like Mr. Yates. (And encouraging the “Nellie Negatives” to change careers to become quality control inspectors)  How will they know they’ve made a difference in our lives if we don’t tell them?  
 
This is also a message for each of us about the tremendous power that our sincere, intentional encouragement can have on others.
 
Our words truly can make a difference.
 
As the Scripture says: 

“Word kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” 
Proverbs 18:21, The Message

 
Today and every day, let’s use our words to help others to thrive.