Today I taught teachers, but as usual when I set out to share myself I learn from them. I shared stories about teachers in my life. One of the stories I shared can be found at the link below.
I hope teachers who read this realize their impact, positive and negative.
I am a better man and teacher for the experiences I had! I am sure you are too!
This story can also be viewed at
Justin Matott stood in awkward embrace as the elder gentleman hugged him as if his life depended on it. He didn't recognize the older man until the words of apology began to pour from the man like rice from a homemade maraca -- quiet, dignified and sincere.
Justin was a published author of three years when his hometown asked him to come and share with the children the lessons he learned once upon a time – life lessons about bullies which later became the theme to his hit series “Go Ask Mom.” Allowed to skip several grades as a young boy, his short stature, eye patch and limp attracted the sharp criticism of older boys who needed a scapegoat on whom to work out their inward demons between classes at the local parochial school. Painfully, Justin shares that he became their “whipping boy.”
Using his gift of storytelling and humor, Justin turned the tables and learned to outwit the bullies, using his mind instead of brawn. Still, there were teachers who didn't understand the long-haired boy with his quick wit. By sixth grade, a new teacher, Mr. Spangler, entered the scene, ready to prove himself to his peers as a coach, a mentor, and a master with an iron rule. Singling out Justin, calling him “Justina,” Mr. Spangler would later regret the torturous verbal abuse and humiliation that immaturity and false confidence as a young teacher breeds.
As the older man stepped away from the now established author, his words revealed that he was in fact the very man that Justin never fully forgave. Mr. Spangler.
Looking into the grown boy's eyes, he said to Justin, “I was a first year teacher and with your long hair and kinda’ funny demeanor, I think it just intimidated me and I wasn't mature enough as a teacher. I didn't know how to deal with you and I scapegoated you. I have never forgotten you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me because I am sure you have carried some real ill feelings for me all these years. ”
“Honestly, you're right. I have. I think I have hated you all these years,” Justin replied in a moment of sincere honesty.
“Will you forgive me?” asked Mr. Spangler, in a dignified plea, recognizing the chance to finally see an age old burden lifted.
“Of course,” agreed Justin softly, tears welling as his own heart lifted from the unexpected joy of a satisfying chance encounter, a resolution and a healing of a buried wound. Life had come around full circle
A week later the librarian from his old school called, saying, “The day you were here was a wonderful day for everyone, but particularly for Mr. Spangler.”
“Did he tell you what happened?” asked Justin, choosing his words carefully.
“No, he kept it to himself but said it was an amazing moment for him.”
“It was an amazing moment for me too.”
“I am calling to say that he died last night.”
Taken aback, it seemed to Justin that Mr. Spangler held on long enough to free both their hearts.
“Justin loved learning about people and hearing their stories. He was a storyteller, a good one, and each person sitting around him must have some story to tell, some insight they gleaned from their own life experiences.”
A couple of years later, Justin enjoyed a break in the teacher's lounge before speaking to a middle school. Addressing the teachers around him, he asked his favorite conversation openers, “Why are each of you teachers? What was a particular moment that made you decide to teach?”
Justin loved learning about people and hearing their stories. He couldn't help himself. He was a storyteller, a good one, and each person sitting around him must have some story to tell, some insight they gleaned from their own life experiences. His parents told him early in life that he had a talent telling stories. Unfortunately his mother wouldn't live to see the book that launched Justin's writing career. In it, he shared his grief over her death and a special moment where he felt her presence in a garden. He thought he was writing it just for himself. Others encouraged him to share it and the book called “My Garden Visits” became an instant success.
After posing the ice-breaking questions to the teachers, a 20-something young man said, “I had a 5th grade teacher that really impacted me. I want to be just like him.” It didn't take much for Justin to realize that the very man that had apologized to him for verbal abuse in his young, formative years was the same man, Mr. Spangler, who would go on to make a positive difference in the lives of future students, so much so that they would want to be teachers themselves.
Justin was confirmed in his belief that bullies can change when they realize what they are doing and how it impacts others. Not only can they mend their ways, but they can make a positive difference in the world given the right motivation and direction.
Another chance encounter allowed Justin to come to terms with his childhood yet again – which worked well in his writing – since it was the theme of his books about bullies and a popular topic in his speaking engagements to schools. He wasn't out looking for his past but it was finding him and it made a great story.
Justin liked to tell the story of one particular bully because the kids seemed to connect over the shared nemesis. Using the boy's real first name, it dawned on the principal of the school that she was now married to the alleged bully. Pulling Justin into her office, she said, “I am so sorry about what my husband did to you as a kid.”
Bringing her husband back to the all-school assembly in the evening, the man also apologized to Justin for his youthful indiscretions and inappropriate behavior. He said that he never forgot how vicious he acted. Sensing a spirit of true sorrow, Justin again offered forgiveness, giving both parties a chance to heal from the past. His books not only gave him a chance to work out his own past but to help others heal from theirs.