All across this land of ours, teachers and students are back in their classrooms, settling in for another year of study. It's a time of anxiety and change, of wonder and concern. What will the new teacher be like? Will my new students learn the lessons I try to teach them?
I got to thinking about that and remembered something I read a long time ago. I don't remember where I read it, and I have forgotten all the details, but I remember for sure, the general outline of what was in that story.
It's about a teacher addressing a group of students in a new setting. It might have been a high school, maybe at an assembly. There might have been more than 100 students. The teacher introduced himself, told them of his past teaching experiences and about the statistics he had been studying for some time. Based on those statistics, he applied the percentages to the number of students there in his audience. It went something like this:
Statistically 80 percent of high school students go on to college, but 8 percent do not graduate. In his case, that would mean 72 of his students would get a college degree. (I'm guessing at those numbers)
He went on to give figures for how many will become doctors, nurses, teachers, architects, attorneys and other professionals. Then he went on to social issues. Ninety will be married within five years. They will have a total of 200 children and 500 grandchildren. That will add up to an extended family of close to 1,000 people.
He gave his students similar figures for how many will live to certain ages like 21, 50, retirement age of 62 or 65 and how many will live to be more than 90.
Finally he got around to the darker side of life. How many will suffer serious illness and how many will be poor. I remember his last item was that according to statistics of the past, one of his students will be in prison for committing a serious crime.
Then he said, statistics tell how many, but do not identify who.
He told them "It doesn't have to be that way." As a teacher, his goal was to change things. To do everything he can to see to it that the one who statistically will go to prison, will not.
The above brings me to my school days. Miss Wiltshire taught algebra and geometry. On the wall above the blackboard behind her desk, Miss Wiltshire had a sign that read "It can be done."
I remember how it felt when I learned that there is a way to measure the height of a flagpole without climbing to the top of it. You put a stick in the ground, measure it's shadow and with pencil and paper figure out the height of the pole. The formula states that the shadow of the stick is in the same proportion to the height of the stick as the shadow of the pole is to the height of the pole.
After that lesson, she took us to the gym and we figured out the height from the gym floor to the top of the scoreboard. Then she had the janitor bring a ladder and we actually measured the height. It was the same as what we had figured it would be.
When many mechanics were trying to build a flying machine, the Wright brothers saw their failures and concluded none of them had correctly identified the problem. Others could get their machines into the air, but they would not "fly." They crashed because of instability. But the Wright brothers saw birds flying and going in all different directions. Their conclusion was, the problem wasn't stability, but control. Their first flight lasted only 12 seconds, but it changed the world.
The stories of others are very much alike. Columbus, Lindberg, Edison, Bell, Ford, Pasteur, Salk, Crile, and all the others said the same thing. They had an idea and approached it with the conviction that "It can be done."
OK, so I haven't invented an egg laying machine or discovered a cure for old age, but I have had some successes because of what I learned from my schoolteachers.
While still only a machine operator, I had a "job" that just didn't come out as it should. I took it to my foreman and he told me what to do to correct the error. It didn't work. Another attempt didn't work, either. He gave up and ordered me to run the "job" anyway. Somehow I knew that "It could be done" so I smuggled the drawing out of the shop that day and a few hours after supper, I was sure I had the answer. I couldn't wait to get back to the shop and make a crucial measurement. I was right. I had solved the problem with what I had learned in high school.
Another time one of the machine operators was having lots of trouble with a job. He, his foreman, the shop maintenance man, and even some engineers, all put in their two cents worth and did not solve the problem. I just did my work and listened to what everyone had to say. Then I suddenly knew the answer. The workpieces needed to be hardened a bit. They tried it and I was right.
What chance does an ordinary person have to change a life? Just as much as anybody else. I remember one of my workers having trouble with fractions. I took about five minutes to give her my explanations and she told me she had learned more about fractions from me in five minutes than she had learned in years of schooling.
Another time I walked out of a store with an armload of groceries and forgot to pay for them. When I returned, the clerk said I had saved her job because she could have been fired for letting that happen. That changed her life because it was proof that not all customers would not have came back to pay.
There is no doubt about how each person has an effect on others. Parents and teachers change the lives of their students all the time. Sometimes without even knowing they are doing it. Students, pay attention and remember -- It can be done!