...we all have them in our lives.
Those special people who, especially when we're young, influence us in ways that can't be counted. Those special people who inspire us...guide us...believe in us...and perhaps change the course of our lives.
I was fortunate to have several people in my life that I looked up to, and wanted to emulate as I got older.
One of those special people was "Coach Z".
Coach Z was our high school boys' team basketball coach...but that didn't mean anything to me. I didn't play basketball, nor was I a boy.
However...Coach Z was also our high school Psychology teacher...and it was within that setting that I most remember him.
I took Psychology I as a sophomore, and from the minute I walked into Coach Z's classroom, I knew he was different than the average high school teacher. He was memorable from the minute when he actually greeted me as I walked into the classroom - something that most other teachers didn't bother with. That initial greeting. He made me feel...welcome.
He then proceeded to teach...but his teaching style was very different from the average high school teacher, as well. He wouldn't sit behind his desk - ever. Oh, no. Coach Z would always come around and perch on his desk, using the surface as his seat - getting just that much closer to the students in the classroom. He made us feel...like we mattered.
After he'd get settled on his desk, he would begin to talk...and that's when the magic really happened. Coach Z had a way of telling a story like no other...he brought you into the story - made you a part of it - and he had us hanging on every word. He made us feel...like we were equals.
He brought Psychology to life that semester...and if you've ever had anything to do with Psychology, you know it can be dry as bones, for the most part. But not with Coach Z. He'd take the concept of Psychology and then weave a story of how that concept applied in "real life" - and I. was. hooked. Period. With a capital "P".
Psychology II was offered second semester - but a small problem existed. I was "only" a sophomore - and normally, Psych II was offered only to juniors or higher. I pleaded my case with Coach Z, who went to bat for me with our administration - and I was in. Boy, oh boy - the only sophomore in a class of upperclassmen? I felt AWESOME!
But I wasn't there to gloat in my specialness...I was there to learn more about Psychology...and hear more of Coach Z's stories. If there'd been a Psych 3 or 4...or 15...I would have been there. Coach Z believed in me...he'd talk with me after class, asking me what I was going to do when I got out of high school.
Years later, I went on to college - and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to teach. And I wanted to teach Psychology. Just like Coach Z. So - my degree ended up being Secondary Education with emphasis in Psych and Sociology. My life-long love affair with teaching - and psychology - began in that 10th grade classroom. With Coach Z.
I've ended up not teaching Psychology, per se...but I do teach. I've taught classes at the hospital where I worked for many years, and I currently do a lot of teaching with the American Red Cross. And my teaching style is very, very similar to Coach Z. I'll perch. On the desk. And I tell stories. I don't know if I'm quite at the caliber of story-telling of Coach Z, but I'd like to think I'm doing him justice. Even if my stories aren't as good as his, I do one thing that he taught me. I respect my students. I treat them as human beings worthy of respect and my time. Cuz' that's what he did.
I never saw Coach Z after I graduated..so it's been over 30 years. While reading this morning's paper, I came across his obituary...Coach Z passed away last week. He and his wonderful stories are now gone.
I read that after he left teaching, he drove a tour bus for awhile - in the Branson, Missouri area - and I can just picture him, sharing his stories with his passengers. Of course, I would hope he wasn't perching on the steering wheel while talking, but with Coach Z, you would just never know what to expect.
Here's to you, Coach Z.