Back when I was in the U.S. Air Force, I requested and received a transfer into a new career field. I became a training and education advisor in the Air Training Command.
The job was not a big deal, you understand. It was just something that suited my background and interests. All I did, really, was teach other people how to teach and give a little practical advice to outfits whose training programs weren't going too well.
As part of my new job, I transferred to a small Air Force base in Missouri and started right in teaching classes. I had already run five or six groups of officers and NCOs through my basic course when I got a surprising telephone call from Shepherd AFB down in Texas -- my headquarters.
Some clerk told me I was going to go to an instructor's school. I chuckled and told him that I really didn't need to learn how to teach. I told him my background and all he said was, "Oh."
I thought that was the end of that until some Major down there in Texas called me and said that, like it or not, I was going to go to TIC, the Technical Instructor Course. Well, I happen to like Texas -- love it, in fact -- and had spent more than two years at Shepherd on an earlier tour. So I just grinned and said, "Yessir."
Now, I didn't learn anything much down about how to teach. They graduated me when I was less than halfway through the course because they could see they were just wasting valuable Air Force time and money.
But I did learn one thing that I have never forgotten. Never.
One day, one of our instructors, a civilian, came into class and quoted from Ralph Waldo Emerson. The quote was, "Who you are thunders so loud that I cannot hear what you say."
The point he was making was that students, both young and old, size up their teachers. If they come to the conclusion that a teacher is stuffed full of blueberry cupcakes, they turn that teacher off, and that's the end of that. No one is going to learn much in his or her classes.
During the more than 38 years I spent in education, I found that to be absolutely the most important determinant of teaching success.
But Emerson wasn't speaking of teachers when he made that remark. He was speaking of people in general. And he was saying something that's so important, so true, so fundamental, that it just might be the most important thing he ever said. And he said a lot.
To see what I mean, turn to the Letters to the Editor and read each one of them. Then make a judgment call as to what kind of person the writer was. And then, more importantly, ask yourself how much of what you read you believed.
See what I mean?
Emerson knew what he was talking about.