Friday, October 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Jims

I'm encouraged and inspired by people who are far-sighted, who understand that they are players in something bigger than themselves.  I have two friends, both named Jim, who have modeled that for me in recent years. Both of them left successful careers to return to the classroom but this time to teach because they realized that teaching was perhaps the most effective way that they could positively impact the future. 

Jim Koehr graduated at the top of his class from Notre Dame, had been an associate in one of the nation's most prestigious consulting firms, and was hired at the corporate office of the company with which I spent 20 years in my first career.  He was brilliant!  He was instrumental in transforming our company, first by completely redesigning our MIS department and making it the leader in our industry.  He took over other divisions, reinvented them and advanced to Vice President in short order, all the while still looking like a kid just out of college!  When the privately-held company sold to a group of foreign investors, Jim took the opportunity to apply his expertise to several other companies that he bought but the most striking decision he made was to teach.  Jim told me once that he realized that his greatest potential to impact history might just be in shaping the lives of students so that's what he did.  He signed on to teach upper level high school math and coach at Seton School in Manassas, Virginia.

Jim Perry took a different route to the same destination.  He began college right out of high school but found it beyond his financial means to continue at the time.  He enlisted in the military and spent the next 10 years, first as a Korean linguist and later as a Spanish linguist. He left the military to return to his hometown and raise his family, where I first met him.  Jim came to work for me as a service representative at the industrial uniform company that I managed and was later named as our plant manager.  Jim Perry demonstrated that, like Jim Koehr, he, too was brilliant!  He did a spectacular job running the plant operations and distinguished himself throughout the corporation as an innovator and leader in quality management.  He later was transferred to the company's top, state-of-the-art location to oversee the plant operations there.  When the company sold, Jim continued in the industry for a time but came to the same conclusion as Jim Koehr.  He, too, wanted to make a lasting difference in the world so he stepped-down from his job, returned to Fairhope and started back to college to earn a degree in education.  Over the next 4 years, Jim held a full-time job and also went to school full-time, graduating with all A's.  Entering the education job market at perhaps the worst time in recent memory in our area, Jim was hired to teach a 6th grade class at Robertsdale (AL) Elementary School this fall.

These two Jims will change history by impacting the lives of countless students. In 10 or 20 years, Jim Koehr and Jim Perry will be the names that are spoken by many when they recall the teachers that made the most difference in their lives.  These men will be credited with encouraging and inspiring their students to become the leaders, innovators and history-shapers of tomorrow.  And they will do that because they chose, at mid-life, to go back and invest themselves in the lives of the next generation. No career field is populated by all heroes.  Some people perform their jobs adequately, some just squeak by, and some are the superstars.

How are you investing your life and into which of these 3 categories will you fit?

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