When a teacher believes in a student, the student inevitably will discover things once unattainable are within reach, confidence will defeat insecurity and the seeds of a successful life begin to sprout.
I know some great teachers and I was fortunate to have had a few in my day. One was Jim Copeland. Mr. Copeland was my high school chorus director for two years before he moved on to being an administrator the summer before my senior year. I am sure he was a fine administrator, but it is impossible to imagine his talents were ever as fully realized in offices and meetings as they were in the classroom.
The spring before my sophomore year, all 4 foot 9 inches of me auditioned for an elite performance group called Act 1. I sailed through the first session and was asked back to the final try-out round. I learned my fate from an 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet tacked to a worn bulletin board – audition results had been announced that way ever since paper was invented. I did not make it, but I am convinced part of the reason I grew 6 inches that summer was because of the way Mr. Copeland turned what should have been devastating news into something positively powerful.
Mr. Copeland pulled me from the group gathered outside the chorus room and told me I had a unique talent, I had much to contribute and I would be an outstanding member of Act 1. The spot I had longed for went to a deserving senior, he explained, but that didn’t reflect on me. I had demonstrated I was prepared, fearless and capable. I had met the challenge, but my time had yet to arrive. The decision came down to numbers – the number of spots available, age, experience and other digits. Those things were beyond my control. What I could do is work hard, keep learning and try again. He was sure I would find myself as a member the following year. I followed his advice (and still do) and I was a part of Act 1 for two terrific years.
I am not sure how great teachers learn how to do what Jim Copeland did that day – education majors are not taught how to do that in college.
I have rarely felt so great about being rejected. Mr. Copeland believed in me and that made all the difference. For a moment I saw myself through the eyes of a mentor and I liked what I saw.
Another school year is drawing to a close. Take a moment to thank a great teacher. They are everywhere. Some of them taught your kids this year. You saw them in your community. You had a Mr. Copeland or two for a teacher yourself. Let them see through your eyes. They did the same for you and it changed your life. Then tell them you appreciate the fact they are one of the great ones.
|Jim Copeland taught at Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Florida until 1982. For the last 30 years, he has been the choir director at Central Presbyterian Church in Tampa. This August he will retire from that post. On Sunday former students and friends sang for him one last time. A WUSF story about this can be heard by clicking here. A scholarship for Chamberlain High School Chorus students has been established. Information on how to contribute to the Copeland Scholarship Fund can be found by clicking here.|
###Graham Gillette continued to grow through his first year of college and now claims to be 5’10″ on a good day. It is hard to say whether this is due to good diet, genetics or something else, but Graham still believes the great ones like Mr. Copeland played a role in helping him reach many heights.
Graham Gillette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This entry was first published as a Des Moines Register online essay.