This month has been pretty interesting especially for a guy who tends to think that he is never “good enough.” Don’t blame me, I grew up trying to live up to my parents view of “good enough” that usually had something to do with being successful in areas I could care less about- i.e. sports or school popularity. So, even at 50ish, when I get recognized for something I usually think there must have been a mistake. When I received an email from MINIUSA that I had been nominated for their “Defy Labels” contest, I first thought there must have been a clerical error. You see at the Super Bowl (It’s a TV show about commercials that has a football game breaking up the ads) MINI had a spot kicking off their new image/branding. Whatever, I still like my Roadster.

Basically, I read the message of the commercial as putting things in neat little boxes devalues the item or looking at the people speaking- the person. Don’t worry about what other people think, be yourself, labels limit the possibilities.  A classier view of being “Not Normal.”  So I get this email with my full nomination: “If you think teachers are all about suede jackets with elbow patches and boring monotone lectures, you’ve never met Bruce. Teaching isn’t just a job or a career to him. It’s the intersection of art and LEGOs and robots and comics. Bruce knows that kids learn best when you strip away the classroom – and the labels that come with it – and you dig into learning with passion and creativity. When kids have teachers like Bruce who dare to do things differently, they learn more than just what’s in the text book. They learn to creatively approach challenges and they learn that it’s perfectly okay to take the road that looks the most exciting.”   The silly part is that they have a character limit on what they display for each person so it ends on “Bruce knows that kids learn best when you strip…” which kinda makes me sound like someone you would never want near children.

A few weeks later I get another email (I really need to start filtering my incoming mail)- This time from one of our district high schools letting me know that one of the top 30 seniors named me as their most influential teacher.  Wha?  Huh?  I think about how I have to teach now, and try to remember what I did eight years ago that was so great… Oh, yeah that was before anyone really cared about test scores, and school grades, when we could teach without fear.  I thought about the student who nominated me (I was required to write 100 words about her for the award ceremony) and I fumbled over what to say, trying to think back to when I could teach, really teach.  She’s a wonderful young lady with a bright future and I hope I found the right words.  She was also asked to write something about me.  On Wednesday I stood on a stage across from her and heard about how I had made it “okay to make mistakes,” and that I was one of the first teachers that let them know the person behind the desk, that teachers had interests to share and be excited about (MINI Coopers, Geocaching, and of course Cecil).  I held back tears, quipped about how Cecil was sorry he couldn’t be there, and smiled… waiting to be escorted off the stage by security because there had been a mistake.

Like I said, I know that there had to be a clerical error in both cases.  I’m know I’m not that good- That I can be better.  With that in mind I have set a new goal:  I want to be the teacher everyone thinks I am.  I may not be teaching much longer with that mindset (thank you politics), but at least my students will be better off (Does anybody really care what a rhombus is?) and I will be happier.

For the record this post is not about asking for reassurances, pats on the back, or even votes.  I just felt I needed to get this out of my head so I could move on.  It usually happens with drawings, but this one is sorta hard to doodle.  It was an honor to be nominated- I appreciate the people who believe in me enough to do so. Now I just need to live up to that honor.