I admit I was a bit of a jerk in high school. I probably wasn’t any more of a jerk than most teenagers, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a choirboy. My biggest problem was that I was smart but undisciplined.
It drove my teachers crazy. I had one teacher, Mr Kerrihard, who managed teach me some really important things without me really realizing it at the time.
Kerrihard taught International Relations. It was the only required class I needed my senior year to graduate. Had I not needed that class I would have gone to college a year earlier and who knows how my life would have turned out?
Anyway, I was this bratty know-it-all. We had weekly quizzes in Kerrihard’s class. The quizzes were about current events. Even at 17 I was a news junkie. I loved reading newspapers. There was no such thing as the internet yet. We had to get all our news from the paper, the radio or the TV.
I don’t remember exactly, but I think I probably aced Kerrihard’s quizzes pretty easily. And I probably wasn’t too humble about how easy they were. But, Kerrihard was a lot smarter than a 17 year old kid. At least he was smarter about teaching.
Okay, Rodney. Tell you what, why don’t YOU write next week’s quiz?
Sure. I will administer your quiz to the class next week.
This was going to be great. I was really looking forward to the chance to show Kerrihard how much smarter than him I was.
I scoured the paper all week. Initially I had 25 questions, but I had to narrow it down to 10. I agonized over which ones to cut. Ultimately, I cut the ones that were too easy.
Friday came and Kerrihard passed out my test. The reaction from the students was immediate and vocal.
Who would even know that?
No one liked my test. I couldn’t understand it. Kerrihard let me help grade it. The results were a disaster. I remember one question was
What historic milestone did the stock market hit this week?
I remember the question because it was the only one that anyone got right. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 1100 for the first time that week. (1983) That was the only question from my test that the students knew.
I had set out to prove to Mr. Kerrihard how much smarter than him I was. But, what he knew and I later learned was that the questions on the quizzes weren’t some mano a mano competition between us. He was writing quizzes for the rest of the students. He was writing for the guys who didn’t read the paper. For the girls who never watched the news. For the kids who only listened to the Top 40 station on the radio and turned it off when the news came on.
I’m reminded of this story often. Yesterday the stock market closed at 17,907.87 yesterday. I think about what $1000 invested back in high school would be worth for one thing. But, I also think about a lesson that Mr Kerrihard taught me without me even knowing it.
I didn’t stop being a jerk. (The Day I Found Out I Was A Jerk.) But, it did two very important things.
First, it shook me to my core beliefs a little. I was so sure that the class was going to do well on my test. I still remember 30 years later what a shock it was when they didn’t.
Second, it planted the seeds of empathy. I’ve been a teacher or trainer in some capacity or other for my entire adult life. Last week I was teaching some 12 year olds boys how to play basketball for the first time. My older son kept wanting to add nuances of different rules.
We’re focused on basic dribbling and passing. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s been easy for me to look at a lesson and strip it down to it’s basic elements. I vowed to never misjudge a class that badly again.
The lesson for us as business leaders is easy, right? We need to set our expectations for new employees to their level, not our level. We need to realize that the areas we find interesting might not be as interesting to our employees or our students.
And we need to remember that investing in the stock market when you are young pays HUGE dividends.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.