By John W. Vander Velden

I understand that there have been times that have had a great effect upon my life. I had two teachers in the sixth grade. There was one — I shall call him Teacher A — that I feared. He made me yearn for three-thirty on Friday afternoons and dread Monday mornings. I witnessed Teacher A, in fits of anger, drag a student out of his seat and across that student’s desk, simply for giving the wrong answer. I felt on edge every moment, Teacher A taught our class. But the one thing I will never forget was the day Teacher A addressed me directly in class. He told me then that I reminded him of his brother and that I, like that brother, would not amount to a “hill of beans”.

A “hill of beans” is not a pile of soybeans of some consequence. No, the term refers to a mound of soil where perhaps four or five beans would be planted. That was a “hill of beans”. And though I did not know that exact meaning at the time I understood — lack of worth!

Then there was my other teacher. Let’s call that one Teacher B. Teacher B made us work harder than the other. But he also made learning fun. Yes, he had become frustrated with the same student that drew physical violence from Teacher A, but handled the situation very differently. He gave the student extra work at each infraction. Teacher B never had the need to lay a hand on any of us. But some months after Teacher A had branded me worthless, Teacher B took me into the hallway. I will remember that time for all my life. He showed me one of my examinations and explained how if I wrote a bit better, my grades would certainly improve. For he told me I was bright, and he would, by error, mark my papers because he could not make out that I had entered the correct response.

Strange isn’t it — how one moment — one comment can change a person. Growing up we had moved about and I had not really felt that I belonged at the school I found myself in then. But my grades did improve. I graduated in the top quarter of my high school class, while taking the most difficult courses available. Later I would graduate from the university with distinction.

Did I do these things to prove Teacher A wrong? I don’t think so. Did I achieve that level of excellence to please Teacher B? Perhaps. But I think the most important thing that happened in that hallway, so many years ago, was that I had a teacher tell me he thought I had potential — a potential I did not know I possessed.

So what is the bottom line? No one, not a teacher, parent or siblings, not fellow students or coworkers, not your friends and especially not your enemies, have the right to define who you are and what you will become. For each of us has grand potential and with hard work and determination nothing we set our sights upon need be beyond our reach. It is for each of us to find that spark that makes us unique. To use that spark to build a light that carries us to all that we can be.

Do not let someone define you. Only GOD knows your heart and from that heart of yours grandeur awaits. For each of us has potential — do something special!



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John Vander Velden

an avid reader and life long story teller, who approaches life with open eyes, hearing ears, and a heart willing to feel.