I have had a great life. I have spent the last two decades teaching people things. Here’s how it happened. I received my degree in Technical Theater from Wittenberg University and returned home to Buffalo to send out some resumes. My intention was to go to work on Broadway or in Hollywood or in Disney. The next best thing happened. I got hired by Studio Arena Theatre, which was a nationally recognized regional theater at the time. It was awesome. I got to work with Broadway designers and amazing actors like Christine Baranski, and incredibly talented directors.
Then I fell in love and got married to my wife of almost a quarter century. We had babies and all the free babysitters were in Buffalo. The Broadway and Hollywood dreams faded, but I have to tell you, that’s OK with me. Professional theater didn’t pay very well at the time, so I left and tried my hand at a few other things, like waiting tables and stocking shelves. Hey, it kept the diapers coming. I had a beautiful wife, two great kids and I was moving up in my job as a home improvement retail manager. Life was pretty good. And then disaster struck.
In March of 1994, my first child, Rebecca, who had just turned 4, was diagnosed with cancer. Brain cancer. A bad kind. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Our life was turned upside down. Treatments were hard and horrible. But that kid never stopped smiling. There was a lesson there, I just didn’t learn it until later. My wife had to all but stop working so that she could attend to Rebecca’s new set of needs and to our infant son’s regular needs.
In the spring of 1995, I got a call from the Principal at the school I still work at and she said “Can you teach?” . I told her that I had been taught some stagecraft techniques to high school kids in Springfield, Ohio while I was still in college and I had been teaching a bunch of the Saturday morning “how-to” workshops at the big home improvement store that I was working at. She hired me to come in and put together a performing arts program at the school. I would be teaching a variety of different classes and serving as the Dean of Students. I would also be directing plays and designing scenery again. It was an exciting opportunity.
School started in September and, other than teaching with my zipper down for a few classes one day during my first weeks, things were going well. Then Rebecca took a turn for the worse. She went into the hospital in the middle of October and eventually lost her battle with cancer in early November. By the time she died, we had a pretty big debt problem and I had a pretty decent drinking problem.
The problems with both the debt and the drinking continued until 1999. Honestly, I am not sure how I managed to keep my job or my marriage intact. To her credit, my wife never once threatened to throw me out or leave me, but I knew I was on thin ice. I also had a great boss at the time and one morning after a particularly long night he called me in and told me I smelled like alcohol. A few weeks earlier my then 6 year old son told me that he that had told his teacher that his daddy did drugs because he had just learned that alcohol is a drug. Amazing what 6 year olds see and absorb. A couple of eye-opening events stacked right on top of each other. If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was.
The next year was tough, but the end results were worth it. After I got my physical self under control, we worked together and got our financial situation under control. Since then, I was voted NHS Teacher of the Year and Teacher of the Month several times by the students (no award means more to me than the ones given by the kids). I was Sam’s Club Teacher of the Year for Western New York, and I was recently inducted into the Lancaster Youth Bureau Hall of Fame for my service to the youth in the community in which I live. All incredible honors that I hold very dear. All made possible by the extremely loving and supportive group of people I have been lucky enough to surround myself with. They didn’t give up on me when I was at my lowest.
I’ve had the opportunity to learn so many different things as I have taught classes in Leadership, Journalism, Marketing, Web Design, Public Speaking, and Advertising Design to name a few. And every single year I do this, I wonder whether I learn more from the kids than they learn from me.
I love being a teacher. I love that moment where I see the understanding appear on their faces. I love getting the e-mails and calls and text messages from former students who tell me that something I taught them inspired them to do something great. There is no greater reward for a teacher than to hear that we made a difference.
Now I am taking some of the many lessons I have learned over the years and broadening my audience. Hopefully I can help you to achieve what ever it is that you want in your life. Lesson number one? The only thing holding you back is…..YOU.