Reflections on Education and The Legacy of a Gentleman
by Principal George C. Henrie
I have had a great summer! And, aren't we lucky, it lasted until the end of October!!! There is just something about the sun shining and the warm air that fills my heart with joy. I love this community, this state and this country.
I spent a lot of time working in my yard this year. I loved it. While I was doing my yard work and enjoying the summer, I just couldn’t help but think about the carefree summer days of my youth, swimming in the canals, fishing, going to family reunions and fireworks on the Fourth of July. I also think about the work, and there was a lot of it on our farm. I know I hated it at the time, but I was really lucky to grow up in a community like the communities in Sanpete County. Everyone knew your name. In fact everyone knew your name, your parent’s names and your grandparent’s names. And, if you ever did anything wrong, your parents usually knew about it before you got home from school!
I was so lucky to have that kind of childhood. Today there are too many children who don’t know where they belong. It really does take a village to raise a child. We all have to participate. At a time when everyone seems to be focused on finding fault with the public education system and teachers in general I would like to express my opinion about the schools in our district and generally speaking, in our state. People don’t become teachers for the paycheck. They don’t become teachers for the summer vacation. They don’t become teachers because they can spread nine months of pay over twelve months of time. They become teachers because they want to make the world a better place. They want the world to be better off because of the life they have lived. They become teachers because they received some kind of intrinsic answer to the question “What should I do with my life?” It may have even been an answer to prayer. So, let me say this on behalf of the professional educators in the South Sanpete School District to the students of our communities: We love you! You belong to us as a community and school and we want you! We want you to come to our school. We believe in you! We care about you, each of you! We believe in your future success!
I can think of no better example of this than the late Wilbur T. Braithwaite. Every child needs a Coach Braithwaite, someone who is not their parent, who is praising them and expecting great things from them. Even though I didn’t know him very well, I know his legacy. Everyone belonged to Coach Braithwaite. It didn’t matter if you were an athlete, a cowboy, a prep or someone who didn’t fit in any of those categories. He cared about them all. They were all “his kids.” The Coach Braithwaite’s in my life go by the names of Miss Beckwith, Mrs. Conant, Mr. Jacobsen, Uncle Frank, Aunt Virginia, Aunt Barbara, Mrs. Pace, Choral and Sharon, and Mrs. J. There were many others too. They didn’t care if I was tall or short, good at sports or not, popular or not. It wasn’t about any sort of competition. It was about them finding me worth the investment of their time, their effort and their love. Their legacy lives on in the lives of many people and will hopefully become generational and live on forever.
As I reflect on how I can do a better job as a principal and how I can help the teachers in my school become a Coach Braithwaite for our students, the word gentleman keeps coming to mind. I have been told that Coach Braithwaite never received a technical foul. Five decades of coaching and I don’t believe there is a single official, coach, student or parent who could fault his behavior. Maybe the experiences he had in World War II gave him this unique outlook on life and helped him see the value of this gentle behavior. Maybe he was able to learn the lesson early in life about the teaching moment. Maybe every moment for Coach Braithwaite was a teaching moment. We all deserve to have a coach or a teacher like Wilbur T. Braithwaite in our lives. We all deserve a coach who cares more about the lessons we learn in the game than the outcome of the game. We all deserve to have this kind of a gentle human take interest in our lives. We all deserve to belong, regardless of our background, our intelligence or the size of our paycheck. Maybe that is how I can help my students, my staff and my community…by making sure there is a place for all of us. Helping my students learn that we all have value and that we all belong is one of my goals. I hope it can be one of the goals of public education.
Who are the Coach Braithwaite’s in your life? I’ll bet at least one of them is a public school teacher.