Veterans Day has a special meaning to me. My grandfather, George Hayzler, served in World War II and was involved in D-Day. I remember him telling me stories about his time in the war and even showed me some of the medals he earned, including a Purple Heart. My best friend growing up as a child, Tom Baldwin, served the Navy proudly upon high school graduation to just last year when he retired. My wife's grandfather, Anthony Mongiello, also served in World War II and was always so proud to share his stories because he cared so deeply about our country. They continue to be heroes to me for the sacrifices they made because they believed so strongly in making a positive difference. They were called into service and did it with every ounce of their being.
In researching about Veterans Day, I came across an interview with Jeffrey Courter from Chicago, Illinois. He had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist and an Army National Guardsman. When talking about his time of service I was struck by the comments he said about his time in Afghanistan. “My deployment to Afghanistan changed me in many ways. It opened my eyes to poverty, oppression, and human need. I saw children standing barefoot in snow. I saw old villagers afraid of terror. I saw families of Americans providing toys, school supplies and clothing to poor Afghans. I saw bravery, kindness, and evil up close. I saw suffering on a scale I had never encountered before. People asked me whether I made a difference being deployed there. I would say, “A very small difference, but if everyone makes a very small difference, in time it will make a large difference. Service is the gift we give to the world. It’s what makes us human. It is also what gives our lives meaning. Serving my country is part of serving humanity.”
What difference can I make? It's a question that I ask myself a lot. We are called into service each and every day working with students. We believe in what we do. There are days where I walk out of school and say, "Did I make a difference?" However, as Jeffrey Courter reminds us, "even if I made a small difference, and everyone on the staff did the same, in time it will make a huge difference." Right now, our school is a great place and every time each of us makes a small difference, it makes the school even greater. Each morning when that alarm goes off, you get out of bed and put your feet on the floor not sure if you can make a difference, change your mindset because you WILL make a difference! Imagine the possibilities that await your students!
I had the opportunity to present to a group of 8th graders in another district this week about our high school Academy program and at the end of the presentation their counselor walked up and said, "Wow, you are high energy, you had those kids engaged the whole time!" After I said thank you and got back to my car I reflected on what she said. The more I thought about it, "Isn't that our job?"
As administrators and teachers WE are responsible for the energy we bring into the room. Yes, the students are responsible too, but if we aren't energetic, passionate and engaging, how can we expect our students to be? Students are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. They know when a teacher or an administrator is just going through the motions or aren't connected to a particular lesson. We've all been there. It happens. However, the students know too. I may not be all jacked up to talk about SGOs or standardized test data but the energy that I bring is not based around those topics. It is based on what those topics are about.......student success. The energy that we bring into the school and into the classroom must be centered on every student, every day, whatever it takes. (Thanks Jimmy Casas!)
I know it is hard. I know that the students may not be motivated. I know that some are missing work. I know that there is grading to do. "I can't possibly have all this energy you are talking about Rich." Yes you do. It's inside of you. It's why you are a teacher.
If it were easy, everyone would be a teacher. As you prepare for the next day, next week or even the next teaching period, bring so much energy into the room that you don't need light to illuminate it. Work will always be there. There are a zillion things that I have going on too, but there is nothing more important than igniting a fire of learning in a student.....and if the other things we have to get done are important for student learning, they will get done too. Bringing positive energy into our school and classrooms is our job. In fact, it is our responsibility.
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.