“A teacher can affect eternity: he can never tell where his impact might stop.” (quote from Henry Adams). I always wanted to be that person affecting eternity, dating back to my years in junior high.
I knew my destiny after taking a speech class with Mrs. Sue Wignall in the 7th grade. She made a huge impact on me, and when the year ended I had learned more than just speech. Mrs. Wignall’s infectious laugh and obvious love for her trade transcended speech. She taught me about life, compassion, humor, passion, and the power of a positive attitude! Ultimately, she inspired me to choose a teaching career, and her spirit lives in both in me and in the students I encounter each year. Because of her I learned no other profession carries greater meaning than teaching. She illustrated that great teachers do more than impart knowledge. They influence lives! I always knew this to be true, but 14 years after entering education I revisited a teacher’s purpose when I felt the power of another truly great class, Adventure Education, and the great teacher who instructed us in the class.
For the past year and a half I somewhat lost touch with my role as an educator and human being. I muddled through life feeling sorry for myself and ignoring all the blessings bestowed upon me. I made a career change and relinquished a big part of my life to better my family. I left Grayslake Community High School, where I served as an English teacher and Head Varsity Baseball coach. I lived in the community, and I built the baseball program while establishing many ties. During a game with Libertyville High School, their coach, Jim Schurr, approached me about an opening at his high school. The opportunity tempted me, yet I had many conflicting feelings.
When I chose to take a position as the At-Risk Coordinator at Libertyville High School, I agonized over my decision. My peers advised me not to pass on this opportunity. I knew Libertyville’s reputation and the money they offered greatly surpassed my salary at Grayslake. It also made life a little easier since my wife stayed home with our two children. My wife and I made this choice because we felt the benefits to our children outweighed the monetary loss suffered by postponing her career. Therefore, after reviewing the facts, I chose the Libertyville offer; however, I never felt totally comfortable with my choice.
The day I told my baseball players at Grayslake, they were all stunned. After all, I had grown so attached to these kids, threw my soul into this position, and had established strong community ties. I cried all the way home and felt a great sickness in my stomach. I kept wondering if I had made the right choice, and I grieved over leaving Grayslake. I spent the rest of the summer in denial and pain while people congratulated me about my decision. Like anything else, time and circumstance have a way of healing. This may seem difficult to understand, and I still have moments when the hurt arises. However, certain people and events have helped put life back in to perspective. Adventure Education and the influence of my teacher for this class have helped to truly put life and its priorities in order.
Adventure Education has helped me regain an understanding of my purpose as a teacher and an appreciation for the important aspects of life. Although I never strayed too far, I admit to having lost my perspective as a teacher and coach. I had placed too much emphasis on baseball and had lost sight of those reasons about why I had chosen teaching. I internalized every loss, and it carried over into the classroom. I obsessed about proving my worth as a coach. Adventure Education returned me to reality. No one is going to judge me on wins and losses. In the end, the impression I leave on my students and players means more than the score of the game. Adventure Education stresses the whole child, as opposed to a curriculum driven class or the outcome of a game. The example I set as a teacher and coach exceeds the subject matter or the score. Education and athletics provide “teachable moments” each and every day as teachers have opportunities to influence lives! Each day I have an opportunity to make a difference, just as Sue Wignall has done for me. I chose teaching for a chance to change peoples’ lives. That may sound somewhat idealistic, but I believe in this possibility. Adventure Education embraces this philosophy as it teaches life lessons and as it challenges students to make connections and reflection on their experiences. Furthermore, I know it works because I have used it already with my At-Risk students and with our baseball team.
Adventure education also offers the chance to utilize my strongest asset, talking with kids. In no way do I mean this in an arrogant manner, but I have a gift for talking with kids in a time of need. Many kids seek my advice during critical moments, and I enjoy this aspect of my job. Kids look for me because they know that I listen. Sometimes I spend too much time, but I never want students to say that Mr. Ferrel does not care. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Occasionally, I am best at saying “no” to kids, but I feel there are worse things in the world. The words of a former coach, and very close friend of mine, stick with me to this day. He said, “Sean. You care. That’s your best and worst trait.” Through debriefing, a major component of Adventure Education, I can talk with kids. I can help them develop personal connections to the classroom and athletics. More than anything, I can use my strengths as an educator and do the one thing I truly enjoy, which is talking to kids.
This is the greatest gift we can give kids. Many kids struggle through adolescence because the adults in their lives fail to find time! We do not develop great kids by giving them money or buying them gifts. We invest by showing we care. Adventure Education shows kids that our concern goes beyond a score of mark in a grade book. Thanks to Adventure Education, I have returned to my roots and purpose as teacher.
I have been shown the potential power of teaching. Power is a dangerous word that depends heavily upon who wields the power. Teachers carry tremendous power whether they realize this or not. We often think our students ignore our words, yet we affect them heavily. When used correctly, teachers have the power to change lives and make a difference. What a gift! This is the basis for career in education. Thanks to Adventure Education methods, I again realized the purpose of my calling.
Teachers make a difference. No one will measure me on wins and losses, or on test scores; however, kids will look back at their experiences with me and measure me according to my impact on their lives.
I admit that a part of me wants another opportunity to work as a head baseball coach and employ these lessons from Adventure Education. Although I still have some unresolved issues, I do understand my true purpose.
And my students will feel the presence of Mrs. Wignall, as well as my Adventure Education instructor, within the presence of my own work. I see shades of these people in myself, and I like what I see. Who knows how far their influences will travel through life? But today, I do know I am a better teacher, coach, father, and husband as a result of my experiences with these teachers and with Adventure Education.
Sean is a Special Education teacher at Libertyville High School.