My grandfather was a superhero in my mind. He was always bigger than life. He drove a big Cadillac and had a nice home in Valparaiso, Indiana and a condo in Florida. But life wasn't always like this for him. As I grew up, my Mother told me how my grandfather struggled. He was alone most of his childhood with only his older brother to take care of him because his father had to work to make ends meet. He stopped his education in 8th grade and went to work to help feed his family. He joined the army during WWII and was nearly mortally wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. My Mother was born while he was away at war. It took him two whole years to heal after his war injuries. During that time, he was never able to see his daughter. When he finally returned, his now two year old daughter was scared and confused about who he was.
He worked as a stock boy in the Woolworths dime stores. He observed everything. He learned the system. He found ways to do it better. As he moved up through a few years to management, he began to think about ways to start his own dime store. He was an entrepreneur. He took a risk.
He started a dime store called Harvey’s in Valparaiso, Indiana with his brother. He simply took what was working and repeated it and fixed or stopped doing things that failed. The brothers grew their one store into 21. As he neared retirement, he sold off a lot of them and spent more time with his family.
As his grandson, I saw his story evolve as I grew up. I realized that my grandfather had it way worse than me. He struggled, failed, almost died, and yet he still succeeded. He helped pay for my education. He took care of his family and others close to him. I owe it to him to do better for myself and my students. On my desk in my office, I have a picture of his first store in Valparaiso, Indiana. I keep it there to remind me that I can be successful. I can and will do great things in education. I will fail and struggle but that comes with any success.
I think it is essential we have these conversations with our students about what drives us. I like to think of it as humanizing the teacher. Students will understand you better. It breaks down barriers put up between the instructor and the student. It shows the student they too can talk about their experiences as well. This helps the teacher learn more about their students. And we all know the more you can relate to your students, the more learning will take place in that environment. That learning is for both the student as well as the teacher.