Teaching is a hopeful endeavor. A good teacher impacts the life of a student far beyond the sometimes short time they share together. A great teacher leaves an impression which impacts those around their students and even several degrees beyond.
You may be familiar with the idea of a coaching tree in sports. The tree shows the influence of coaches, tracking assistant coaches that went on to have their own successful head coaching careers, potentially mentoring a second generation of coaches, who potentially develop a third generation of coaches, and so on.
The influence tree of a great teacher is difficult to track or quantify, but it is extremely wide. My Mom, Janet Sholes, was an English teacher for over 25 years. On a very regular basis, almost without fail, when former students recognize our name they make a point to tell me how her tutelage helped keep them eligible for sports, or her standardized test prep helped them get into college, or her instruction in writing helped them make it through tough college courses or professional assignments. And, when you consider how those careers and lives scattered out into the world, all those little influential nudges add up. The impact becomes impractical to measure but impossible to deny.
I have been fortunate to study under many individuals who fit the description of great teachers. And, like most of us, I have done far too little to express my appreciation to any of them. This post if a first step to rectify that.
For roughly the last twenty years, the first professor most students encountered when they entered the Engineering Management graduate program at UAH was Dr. Dawn Utley. Over the course of several classes, Dr. Utley presented a synthesized combination of organizational science, systems thinking, technology strategy, and management theory which redefined the way her students viewed organizations. More importantly, many students walked into her class focused on earning a degree primarily to serve self-oriented motives such as personal accomplishment or to aid career advancement and walked out with a greatly increased awareness of the responsibility we hold as aspiring leaders to serve others ahead of ourselves.
Eventually I ended up paired with Dr. Utley as a doctoral advisor and her support and guidance were pivotal to completing that research project. In hindsight, I realize, unequivocally, I would not have chosen the path of seeking an EM PhD, much less completed it, absent her support.
Not too long ago, we crossed paths and Dr. Utley mentioned she had kept up with my career and had been hearing good things. A thought ran through my mind – any kind comment about my professional performance says as much or more about her as it says about me. (The unkind ones, however, belong solely to me.) There is little doubt her instruction continues to influence my daily professional activities, and I am sure that is true for many others as well. Dr. Utley retired from UAH in May 2017. The span of influence she leaves behind is immeasurably large and now undoubtedly touches many who never even met her.
It has been a long time since I put an apple on a teacher’s desk. I am not even sure if people do that anymore. But, I do want to acknowledge the knowledge and support she has imparted on many students, along with this picture of an apple, in sincere appreciation.
Thanks, Dr. Utley!
PS – If you shared a common experience, either with Dr. Utley, or any teacher who positively influenced you somewhere along the way, post a note below about that experience and let them know you did. That small token of appreciation is (literally) the least we can do. 🙂