Graduation season is here, and I can't help but reflect on teachers who've made a difference. So today I'd like to take a moment to briefly recognize and applaud two incredible educators from the Lodi Unified School District who helped mold me when I was young into the man I am now.
At Reese Elementary School, the first adult and teacher who ever treated my peers and I with a mutual respect and didn't talk down to us was my fourth-grade teacher, Joyce Shorts. Mrs. Shorts, wife of the man who owned and operated Standard Hobbies on Lockeford Street for decades, seemed different from the first time we sat down in her classroom.
She went out of her way to make sure you understood what you were learning without making you feel stupid or somehow less intelligent than her, as so many teachers had done up until that point either by accident or on purpose.
The fourth grade was also my first stab at politics. I ran for student council treasurer that year and got to school early one day to put up my posters. Mrs. Shorts, who had just arrived to her room but hadn't had time to turn the lights on yet, told me I could put my posters up on her windows.
Shortly after doing so, three of my fellow classmates, one of them a girl I had a huge crush on, walked up outside the window and read the poster aloud not knowing I was on the other side.
"Wade Heath for student council treasurer. The best man for the job." There was a moment of silence and then laughter. They thought I was a joke and I had just started campaigning. It hurt since I had feelings for that girl, too. I wanted desperately to tear down the posters to spare myself any more embarrassment.
Mrs. Shorts must have sensed this as she had a knack for making you feel like you could conquer the world even at your lowest moment.
"Those posters are very nice, Wade," she said. "Even if you don't win this election, you will succeed in the future because you know what people want and you know what is right. I think you will do great things."
She may not remember saying it to me, but those words made an incredible impression on my character. The election results came in and I did lose. But not long after I tossed my hat back in the council race for Safety Commissioner of our school safety patrol (crossing guards) and did win, thanks to Mrs. Shorts' faith in me and encouragement.
She was a class act.
Moving on to sixth grade at the same school, a remarkable man by the name of Steve Isaak delighted and inspired my classmates and I like no other teacher before or since. He's the man that told us on day one that if he felt like halting class to go outside and play dodgeball with us, he would. To a group of sixth-graders, that single notion made him a rock star.
He was animated, hilarious, told the greatest stories and even played his keyboard in class. It was the first time I'd ever felt that learning could be fun. He made every lesson fascinating or a game.
The most memorable thing I ever learned from the man wasn't about science or social studies, but about knowing who you are.
I'll never forget one day where he had once again captivated the room with one of his stories that always ended in an educational point. It was about someone lying wounded on a street in pain and people walked right on by, going about their day, acting like nothing was wrong because they didn't want to be bothered.
"Would you be apathetic like them? Or would you be empathetic and stop to help?" It was just a five minute story out of one of the hundred-plus school days we had that year, but Mr. Isaak's story and questioning made me confront what I would do in life at that very moment. Apathy or empathy? Walk on by treating a person like a disposable object or stopping to aid, assist and show your love for that person because they are human?
I chose empathy from that point forward and it has served me well in life. His kids and wife are just as cool as he is and I am happy to say that to this day I remain friends with him.
If you've ever had the honor of being educated by Mr. Isaak, then you more than likely share my admiration for such a wonderful man, educator and friend.
That's certainly not all. There are several more teachers I'd like to recognize in a future column. But this topic begs the question, which Lodi teachers made a positive impact on your life?
Columnist Wade Heath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.