My fourth grade teacher

The human animal lives usually far within its limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum.
William James
1842 – 1910

Do you remember your fourth grade teacher? The other day I was thinking about mine. You might well wonder why, given that it’s been over fifty years since I was in that grade.

My teacher was middle aged and rather bland, and she didn’t inspire me to learn new and exciting things. Here’s why she stood out: her class was the first time I can remember my excuses being accepted. I didn’t say “the dog ate my homework” — I was a little more creative than that. Still, my teacher had probably been teaching the same grade and subjects for twenty-five or thirty years; looking back, I’m sure that whatever weak excuse I offered for any particular shortcoming, she’d probably heard it many times before. But the sad truth is, she accepted it.

I don’t mean to single out this particular teacher. The school system held many others like her; she’s just the first one I remember. She was content to teach her subject and felt that if I learned a certain amount, she’d done her job. Our school system wasn’t geared to demanding or even expecting a student to do his or her best. The teachers were satisfied if we absorbed enough material to answer a majority of test questions correctly.

Even worse, this attitude isn’t confined to our school system. Look at our employers. Do they demand or even expect excellence? No; just like the schools, most settle for getting the job done. We’ve become a nation that does just enough to get by.

You’d be entirely correct if you said that it’s my responsibility to do my best, to fully apply myself and get the most from both school and employment opportunities. And I wouldn’t argue with you for a moment. In fact, I believe that failure to take individual responsibility for our circumstances is what keeps most people in less than desirable circumstances.

But here’s the lesson, and it’s an extremely important one. When I was in the fourth grade, I wasn’t capable of holding myself accountable. I knew and understood the things I should do, but it was easier to let homework slide. It was more fun to play ball; playing offered instant gratification. I could and would have done better if I’d been held accountable.

If you truly want to improve your life and realize your dreams, find someone who can and will hold you accountable. Don’t rely on your own self-discipline; find a coach, mentor or Dutch uncle who will really hold your feet to the fire and force you to do all you’re capable of doing. You’ll be amazed by how much you achieve.

The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do.
James Allen
1864 – 1912

Copyright © 2014 John Chancellor


My fourth grade teacher — 1 Comment

  1. I remember my fourth-grade teacher, Miss McKee. She was tougher than your fourth grade teacher because when I told a lie that I was Irish (it was St. Patrick’s Day and I wanted to celebrate) she called me on it. I learned my lesson. Be who you are. Everyone else is taken. Thanks, John!
    Diana Bletter