Have you ever had a mentor? What was the greatest lesson you learned from him or her?
When about to enter the sixth grade we moved. Suddenly I was in school where I knew no one. I was assigned to Mr. Bales class. He was the first male teacher I had. He was a short man. I was taller than him.
I came to his class with baggage. All through my previous grades I was the class dummy. I was last to catch on to everything. He didn’t seem to care.
In his class he moved around like a bee from flower to flower while instructing and giving life, meaning, and application to what we were learning.
The first couple of weeks my grades soared. I was in a position never before attained; I appeared to be the smartest and most capable student in the class.
We held a class election and I was elected as president. That seemed impossible and improbable from all my other dismal years. I became captain of the Safety Patrol.
Mr. Bales challenged me. “I think you are capable of better grades,” he’d say. “And I’ll show you how it’s done. You got to love what you are learning.”
There was a time when nine boys including myself received whacks from a paddle. “But I didn’t do anything,” I protested.
A group of boys in the class began to tease a girl. They would not let up. It got to the point she cried. Mr. Bales was furious and he let me know his displeasure with me.
“With responsibility comes accountability. You should have done something. You should have acted, because you did nothing you were as guilty as those who did.”
Shortly after that a couple of girls passed a note to me. They wanted to have sex with me. I gave the note to Mr. Bales. The girls’ parents were notified. The next day Mr. Bales had someone watch the class. He took me to a private room and we talked. I assured him of having nothing to do with the action of the girls. He than talked to me about the importance of respecting others, my self, and living a moral life. “You did the right thing,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”
Memorizing poems was a challenge. Mr. Bales picked out a poem for me to memorize. It was longer than any given to the other students. He knew I liked baseball. He gave me Casey at the Bat.
I recited it in class. I recall his smile of approval and my exhilaration of the accomplishment.
I would have ran through a burning building for that man.
At the end of the year we moved to another school district and soon found my way at the bottom of the class. Gone was the positive influence and affirmation of Mr. Bales.
Mr. Bales’ sister married an older of mine cousin. Years later when my uncle died Mr. Bales came to the funeral home. It was now forty years since I saw him last.
We saw each other. He recognized me without hesitation. I walked up and hugged him. We both gave way to tears before a word was spoken.
The greatest lesson he taught me was respect for others and how to be a man.
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