Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reading Between the Lines

 "A teacher affects eternity… he can never tell where his influence stops." – Henry Adams

Last Sunday on Father’s Day, my thoughts turned to my late father the teacher and the lessons I learned from observing his contributions to others.

It has been 70 years since my dad, Howard Adams, graduated from Phelps High School in 1941, the proud salutatorian in a class of 12 seniors. His educational odyssey continued at what was then the closest post-secondary school – Central State Teachers College in Stevens Point. He finished his degree at Lawrence University under the GI bill, and then earned his master’s attending night classes and summer school at UW-Madison.

Today, Dad would appreciate that graduates of Phelps and other small northern Wisconsin high schools are able to take advantage of the Nicolet Area Technical College University Transfer program en route to a four year college or university.

My father demonstrated an enthusiasm for knowledge that was contagious.

Men and women who benefited from the nearly three decades he devoted to education, first as a social studies teacher and then as a guidance counselor, still go out of their way to tell our family how he made a difference in their lives. Mr. Adams wasn’t as flashy as the more popular faculty members at Mayville High School, but teens knew he was somebody they could count on to keep their confidences and help them find answers.

I think of Dad as the original George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He taught me that none of us can ever know all the ways in which our words and actions will ultimately make a difference to those we encounter on our daily walk through our own wonderful lives.

That concept of cosmic connection – the sense of personal responsibility for setting events in motion to lift people up rather than tear them down – was his greatest legacy. Not only to his two daughters, but also to each young person he counseled for 27 years.

The hopes and dreams of each student were important in Dad’s eyes regardless of the educational path he or she chose to achieve success. Every occupation had merit and offered limitless opportunities for contribution through hard honest work.

He was a patient man who didn’t have to prove anything to anybody or seek recognition; he already knew who he was and that was enough. During the years Dad served as school liaison to the Salvation Army, few knew how often he quietly arranged for new pairs of shoes, winter coats or eyeglasses wherever he saw the need.

Despite chronic illness that forced his disability retirement at age 45, my remarkable and courageous father managed to retain his “think positive” attitude for the last two decades of his life. It was his final and best lesson.

From my parents and other memorable teachers and mentors, I learned that education is a journey, not a goal, and that we are ALL teachers by example. The value of education is measured in countless ways from cradle to grave.

Andrew Carnegie called the public library “the people’s university.” As information equalizers for all Americans, public libraries both parallel and complement the contributions made by their equivalent in schools and colleges.

Lifetime learning is also a key value for those of us working in school, academic, public and special libraries. We librarians do our best each day to make connections, offer a wide range of choices, and otherwise shake the tree of knowledge for everyone who depends on us to be there when needed. We will never know the countless ways our work has made a difference.

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