Sometimes you only get a minute or two to introduce yourself. Depending upon the audience, it may be fairly important to make that introduction in a succinct manner that truly captures the image and persona that you wish to convey to the world. When you think about it that way, it’s really a matter of how you see yourself and how you wish for the world to see you.
I think about this often because I wear many hats. That is the nature of my profession. As much as labels get a bad rap in our society, one can’t help but be labeled. What is that one label that defines you better than any other?
I’m an educator. I educate undergraduate and graduate students in business finance. I educate high school students and adults in personal finance and life skills. I educate my own children in similar areas and then some. I try to add value to the lives of everyone whom I encounter and help them to reach their own potential. That’s a tall order, but I think educating others is more than just teaching what will be on the test. It’s about being practical and relevant. It’s about being a leader, a role model and a coach.
Recently, I began volunteering at a local, inner city high school. I stick my nose into nearly everything in an attempt to help the school be more efficient so that it can become stronger and viable long after I’m gone. In that capacity, I’m sometimes asked to talk with students whom no one else can seem to reach. I met with one such student this week. She was labeled as an ‘attitude problem’. Her grades were terrible. She had a ‘rap sheet’ as long as my arm for a number of minor code of conduct violations. The principal had had enough. The young girl’s mother pleaded for another chance. I saw something in this beautiful but defiant 14-year old that I thought was worth fighting for. I convinced the principal to give her another chance on the condition that I would work with her personally, including tutoring as our schedules allowed. Hours after striking the deal, I was informed that the student was already breaking rules. I reconnected with her and shared my disappointment after going out on a limb for her. I asked her to think about who she was and what she wanted to do with her life before returning to school. I told her that her principal would be happy to have a student who was eager to learn and abide by his rules, but that if she couldn’t be that student, she should find another school. The next morning, I was told that she returned with a new attitude and eager to take on the world. However, she had broken several dress code rules. I caught up with her once again to discuss the matter. It was hard to be angry about the dangling earrings and short skirt when I heard the excitement in her voice about her algebra homework and take-home science exam. She chose her future over stubbornness and defiance. She was finally focused! Sure, we all have to play by the rules, but remember — I’m an educator. This young girl went from academic indifference to being truly turned on by knowledge in just a matter of days. Of course, it could have been an act, but I don’t think so. I think I got through to her. I honestly don’t think it was any one thing that I said or did. I think it was simply that I cared enough about her to convince her that she should care more about herself.
I think that’s what being an educator is all about. We have to cover certain topics and assign grades and all of that stuff, but in my book, those are the things that are least important. What is most important is creating the spark and excitement for learning. It’s about engaging students not just in a particular subject but in their future.
I love what I do and am proud of who I am. I’m an educator and I enjoy playing that role on several levels from high school to college to adult education. I think that knowing who you are is an important step in planning for your own future. How can you be your best and continuously improve if you don’t even know who you are? Who are YOU?