A Passion for Teaching

You haven’t taught until they have learned

attributed to John Wooden

My parents made certain we attended incredible schools, but my mom wouldn’t teach in them.  There were two reasons for this decision.  She didn’t want to teach in the schools her children attended, and more importantly, she wanted to teach children of color.  My mom grew up in the Jim Crow South.  One of her early memories was Jackie Robinson coming to her middle school and telling them to go to college.   She wanted to pass this dream along, so my mom drove from our suburban home to the inner city everyday to fulfill her mission.

My Parents Novel Idea


When I was 13 years old my mom proposed a novel idea.  She and my dad didn’t think I had enough black friends, so they felt it would be a great idea for me to play basketball on a summer team in the inner city.      I was against it, they were for it, so I spent the summer on an all black summer league team..

The league was for those age 16 and above, so it was much faster and tougher than any I had experienced.   I spent some portion of every practiced intimidated.  One day during a water break one of the kids had compassion on me, and began asking me questions.   This was the first time anyone had cared who I was, where I was from, or what I was doing there.  Just before the break ended he asked me a question which told me everything I needed to know about the impact my mom was having on her students.

What’s in a Last Name?


He asked me for my last name and I responded, “My last name is “Ewell, which is spelled E.w.e.l.l., but pronounced like the “Yule” Christmas log.”  This was an answer I had learned to give over years of confusion about my name.  His response was nothing like I expected.

His eyes grew wide and his voice shrill as he nearly shouted the final question, “Is your mom Mrs. Ewell…the teacher?”   I acknowledged with a nod of the head since fear occupied my mouth with silence.   He turned to all the other players and shouted to them, “You guys aren’t going to believe this one.   Russ’s mom is Mrs. Ewell!”

The players gathered around me.  One of the oldest spoke and said, “Mrs. Ewell!  Mrs. Ewell!   If you are in her class and you don’t want to learn, then she will make you learn!”   Suddenly every player either nodded his head or verbally acknowledged this reality.   They reached out their hands to slap me five, patted me on the back, then spent the practice including me like never before.

From this moment on I was accepted and would enjoy a unique relationship with them over the years as we competed in games and tournaments.

The Most Passionate Teacher


Why do I share this story?


The most passionate teacher I ever met was my mom.  It would be an injustice to say she taught.  My mom practiced her craft.  She was an artist as skilled as DaVinci in the classroom.   Her social artistry made Freud look like an amateur as she managed the adolescent emotions of disadvantaged youth.  Her intellectual artistry was nothing short of Richard Feynman as she made complex subjects accessible.   She regularly painted a picture of what each child could be, holding them captive to the vision until it became a reality.

Hundreds of kids live adults lives beyond their imaginations because of their time in her classroom.   I am one of those kids, even though my classroom was our home.

Passionate teachers change the world, so whether you are at home or in the classroom be one.