key beliefs · memories · Reflective Practice

The Life Lessons We Teach

On Sunday, June 13th my husband and I attended a retirement celebration at Norwalk High School for Jeff Smith, who is retiring after 34 years as a music educator.   My husband played saxaphone with the Norwalk Marching Bears throughout high school.  He spent countless hours practicing for local football games and for special events, such as the Citrus and Fiesta Bowl Parades.  He insists that being part of the marching band, under Mr. Smith, helped to shape him into the person he is today.

Almost 1,000 people packed the Norwalk High School Auditorium on Sunday to pay tribute to Mr. Smith.  After sitting through a two and a half hour program and attending a reception in the late afternoon, it was clear to me that Mr. Smith taught his students a myriad of life lessons that were loaded into the life backpacks of the kids in his classes.

Old photographs, color guard flags, and blown-up Mr. Smithisms lined the walls of the gymnasium during the reception.  My husband was catching up with some former classmates when one particular sign, which I’ll paraphrase (below) caught my eye:

“To be early is to be on-time.  To be on-time is to be late.  To be late is unacceptable.”  –Jeff Smith

Clearly, tardiness was not accepted by Mr. Smith.  I thought about the hundreds of rehearsals my husband attended in four years of high school.   Obviously, he was expected to be early or on-time to them.  And that’s how my husband is in life today.  He’s nearly always ready before me.  Unless there are circumstances beyond his control, he doesn’t run late.  I’m sure this is one of the many lessons he internalized from Mr. Smith.

Many teachers in the Northeast are in the final two or three weeks of the school year right now.  Others of you have just said good-bye to another class of students.  What lasting lessons did you send your students with as they headed out the door of your classroom into life? How have the non-academic, life lessons you’ve taught your students impacted on the lifelong habits of your students?

7 thoughts on “The Life Lessons We Teach

  1. I wanted to share a reflection that a student had written in their portfolio – It goes like this-I hope this stays with her I know it will stay with me:

    Dear Mr. ________,
    I have learned a lot about myself this year. And you made me want to read more, a lot more, with the read alouds and helping me to find authors I love. Thank you.
    As I said before, I love the author of Shiloh because it is one of my all time favorite books! It was my favorite book in fourth grade. And you helped me a lot by getting me to a place where I can even read the book smoothly. I think I’ve grown as a reader. And I know a memorable lesson like that there is more to a book than just reading it, you need to dig into the book and see what things really mean.
    Some of the goals I am going to set over the summer are reading Sports Illustrated and National Geographic for Kids and Boy’s Life. This will not be daily so I’m going to the library so I can pick out a book. I LOVE READING!



  2. There are some words i don’t accept as pejoratives in my classroom, words that don’t bother some people, most notably retarded and gay, which I point out by saying “We don’t use that word” (as condescending as that sounds – I know I sound like I’m talking to 4 year olds, but it’s just how it comes out).

    Recently one of my kids was in Las Vegas. When she came back, she told me, “I heard someone call something retarded, and I waited for someone else to say, ‘We don’t use that word.” But no one did…so I had to say something.”

    I was so damn proud of her.


  3. A poster hung in my fourth-grade classroom when I was a student many years ago that still serves as an underlying philosophy of what I try to impart to kids (especially adolescents):
    “In a world of copycats, be an original.” This is an important truth for adolescents to hear. Also, the tried and true, “be yourself”. As a teacher, you can live these ideals and this can teach just as much, if not more, than the curriculum.


  4. I ran into a parent of a former student recently. Her daughter is now in a teacher ed program and she says that she wants to be a teacher because she wants to help children see that their ideas have power. Her mom said this is something her daughter learned at our school. Gave me goosebumps!


  5. I, like your husband, was part of the wonderful experience of marching band. It really did teach me very powerful life lessons such as leadership, collaboration and organization. My band director also used that famous line: “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is to be a shared position”. Our band was so large that there were always a few people that had to sit on the sidelines during Friday nights and if you were late – you were one of them!


  6. **DIRTFT (pronounced ‘dirt foot’): Do It Right The First Time! You know, except when you’re writing . . . then it’s ‘Just Do It’!

    **Be true to yourself! What would (your name) do?

    **Treat others as you would want to be treated! Don’t stereotype.

    This is only my second full year of teaching, so I’ll let you know about the impact when I know!


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