One of my early mentors
I attended private school throughout my education, from kindergarten through college. In elementary school, I spent much of my time trying to make my friends laugh, usually in a way that would get them in trouble but not me. I remember those years very fondly and I am still in touch with one of my friends from first grade, who still lives in the Dallas area.
I switched schools after the sixth grade (that's as far as you could go at my elementary school), and I went to the same school from 7th grade through high school.. One of my teachers there, Bill Bryan, had an incredibly strong influence on me. He was a former minor league basketball player who almost got signed by the Atlanta Hawks, and he would regale us with stories of training from his years as an athlete. He had a phenomenal sense of humor as well, which I think is necessary when you are teaching kids whose hormones are running rampant and whose identities are being shaped. I remember that he once offered extra credit on a test for anyone who could spell "phlegm" correctly. I think one kid got it right (not me).
During that time in my life, I was really a "teacher's pet", and I made straight A's for several years. This is not necessarily the recipe for popularity, since I was ruining curves for other students on a regular basis.
Bill Bryan coached the basketball team (of course), so everyone called him Coach Bryan, even though he was a terrific teacher as well. He inspired confidence in me by choosing me to tutor younger kids in science when I was a freshman in high school. This gave me the feeling that I was making a difference.
Later, when Coach Bryan learned of some of the family issues going on in my house, mainly with my verbally abusive stepfather, he talked with me at length about what was going on. He shared things with me about my aptitude and IQ test scores that were not supposed to be divulged, but he knew that this knowledge would motivate me, so he didn't hesitate.
In a way, Bill Bryan was like a surrogate father to me for about three years or so. Without his presence at school, I can't honestly say how things would have gone for me. He was like a rock. Honestly, he was one of my only friends at the time.
I had always planned to find him and thank him for being my friend and favorite teacher, and to tell him just how much he meant to me. When I was in my 20's, I ran into another teacher who was in Austin for a conference, who told me that Coach Bryan had died. He was far too young to leave. Apparently, he passed away very suddenly from a heart attack. I don't know exactly how old he was, but I am guessing he would have been in his mid-to-late 40's.
I never had a chance to thank him for his kindness, and for investing his time in helping a young man who was struggling to figure himself out. As I was composing this post, I realized something about myself that stemmed from that time in my life. I have always noticed that I have a number of friends who have me as their sole friend. In other words, I am an exceptionally loyal friend, and many times I serve as a therapist of sorts. I think that this came from Coach Bryan. He knew that I had no one else to talk to at school, so he reached out and made himself available.
Take time to be a friend to the friendless. You never know what kind of impact you might have on someone.