Accidental Education

I apologize in advance for the next six lines.

“What is all the fuss?”
“Teachers help all of us.”

“No more rhymes, and I mean it!”
“Does anybody want a peanut?”

“Are there struggles ahead?”
“Well without our teachers, we all be dead.”

educationMary Wax Goldsborough (or Miss Wax as I knew her back in the day) deserves my unending appreciation if for no other reason than because she introduced me to the Princess Bride. So thank you!

Mary taught me a lot about music as well.  She was the music teacher at my school when I was growing up.  I learned about motif, repeating themes, and much more that has made Star Wars, Les Miserables, and life as a whole more interesting and meaningful.  She taught me an appreciation for Mozart as well as jazz.  Because of her relentless passion and her ability to throw things at my head while directing, I learned correct posture while playing saxophone.  Seriously, because of her passion I made it into college choir and band, and singing and playing saxophone is a joy still for me today.

But like so many great teachers in my life, the greatest educational lessons with Mary were not moments of intentional instruction but rather moments of accidental education.

Mary lived in a small house near the school, but she would invite the entire band to her house for an annual party.  Now granted, my graduating class from Zeeland Public High School was 12, so the band didn’t have 100 students in it, but she invited all of us.  We ate in the garage because it was the only room big enough for us all (but we spread out throughout her house).  She also invited me to her house for a meal when she found out I was stuck in town between school and a basketball game later that evening.  She made me a hamburger, gave me a Coke, and introduced me to the Princess Bride — I’m pretty sure I laughed so hard I had Coke come out of my nose.

Mary taught me a lot in the classroom.  More importantly, however, in moments of accidental education, Mary taught me that teaching others isn’t just about what happens between a lectern and a seat, but also about what happens around a table — especially if it’s the teacher’s table.

In other moments of accidental education, Mary also taught me that the most important lessons a teacher can teach are seldom about the subject matter but about life.

I was a bit of an awkward junior high student.  Had we been wealthy, I could have been eccentric; however, because our family was not wealthy, I was basically “weird.”  I suppose every junior high or middle school student feels this way, and I probably wasn’t as uniquely weird as a felt; nevertheless, I didn’t feel like I fit in.  I dealt with this by messing around and trying to be funny — key word “trying.”

On one particular day — I think during music appreciation, a class that in my experience failed to help most students appreciate anything other than AC/DC or Guns-N-Roses — I was messing around quite a bit in the band room.  Mary grabbed my attention, looked sternly at me, and said, “You could be great at something if you just focused!”

I still remember where I was standing when she said that — mostly because I didn’t think she was on the same side of our split classroom when I was messing around.  Her words didn’t launch me into a successful music career or, for that matter, bring me great success in the eyes of the world in any particular career.  What it did do, however, was let me know that someone believed that I was capable of doing anything of substance.  It was a word of encouragement to a student who felt ill equipped to do anything but mess around and try to be a clown.

There were probably a lot of factors that played into it (like my mom telling me I could watch Bonanza reruns at 10:30PM if I got on the “A” honor roll), but I went from being a mediocre junior high student to excelling academically in high school, college, and beyond.  Part of that transformation was due to a moment of accidental education thanks to Mary Wax Goldsborough.

Mary is far from the only teacher who did this for me.  Through the years, I have been fortunate to have some pretty amazing teachers in elementary school all the way through graduate school.  Many of them, like Mary, taught me as much out of the classroom as they did in the classroom — as much about life as they did about their particular subject matter.  I hope that each of them, in reading this, hears echoes of my deep appreciation for them as well.

I also hope that each of us will take time to be teachers for others — recognizing that sometimes the most important lessons are taught accidentally.  Accidentally does need to mean unintentionally.

Be intentional about creating space for life’s most important lessons to be taught accidentally to a new generation.

I’ve asked Mary to write tomorrow’s post about being a teacher.  I hope that you will learn from her as I have.


March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”