May 7, 2001: To my son, Ken:

I have been proud of you since the day you were born but never more so than right now. After almost 20 years in the business world, you are about to become a teacher. When you step up on the stage at Kennesaw State University and get your teaching certification, it will be one of the great moments in my life.

There are four professions that rank above all others: religion, medicine, education and public safety. All four touch humankind in unique ways: Religion cares for the soul; medicine, the body; education, the mind and public safety, our ability to live peacefully with one another. To do these jobs well requires a passion and commitment far beyond what is expected of the rest of us.

This is an interesting time for public education in Georgia. Governor Barnes has placed education reform as the centerpiece of his administration. We could make his efforts a lot easier if we truly cared about having better schools. We say we care but sometimes I wonder. It is like highway safety. We all say we want safe roads but then we drive like idiots.

You will find everybody seems to be an authority on how our children should be educated. Politicians think if you throw money at public education, it will solve all the problems. Special interest groups resist any efforts to change the status quo, even though it would make for a better learning environment because they fear losing power and influence. Non-supportive parents expect you to raise their children for them and then give you hell if you try to apply a little discipline. Your colleagues in the classroom must feel like punching bags. We pay them so little to do so much and then want to put all the blame on them because our schools don’t perform up to our standards.

Somehow we want to hold our schools to a higher standard of accountability than we are willing to place on ourselves. The fact is that our public schools mirror our society. Drugs, single-parent homes, a lack of respect for authority, permissiveness, the absence of civility – all impact our schools negatively. Yet we expect the teacher or the school board or the Governor to solve our problems for us. We can’t seem to bring ourselves to admit that the solutions must come from the home.

There will be days you will get so frustrated you will wonder why you decided became a teacher in the first place, but don’t let that affect you. You have the unique opportunity to be a positive and lasting influence on young people. Don’t lose your focus or forget why you are in the classroom. If you make a difference in just one life, all the irritations will have been worth it.

Every one of us can name a specific teacher that had an impact on our lives. Mine is Dr. Raymond Cook, a retired English Literature professor from Georgia State. He came into my life just as I was about to flunk out of college. (I never said I was as smart as you!) Being in Dr. Cook’s classroom inspired me to stay in school and graduate. As you know, I have had a wonderful career but I can’t imagine what my life might have been like had I decided to quit school. That is the result that one teacher had on one student. I am not proud to say that it took me 43 years to tell him “thank you” but thank God, I finally did.

You may never have a student tell you what you have meant to them and some of them may not even realize the effect you had, but that’s okay because you will know in your heart that you made them better people. That is all that matters.

So it is now time to embark on this new and exciting journey with the applause of the whole family, particularly your old man. I wish you all the best. Woodland High School in Bartow County has landed a terrific biology teacher. And I have a terrific son.

Love, Dad