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Every Day Should Be 'Thank a Teacher Day'

by on September 18, 2018 5:00 AM


For those of you who don’t have kids in high school, you may have missed the fact that last Friday night was “Teacher Appreciation Night” at the State High football game at Memorial Field.  My Friday “date night” with my wife was really about going to see our senior son Ryan’s friends play for the Little Lions. It was a fun and relaxing evening catching up with old friends, and looking out onto the field to see all those young men that I have watched grow up over the years and wondering, where has all the time gone?

I had a similar feeling last Tuesday night when I joined family friends Tom and Mary Ann Henderson, to watch their daughter Leah and the State College girls volleyball team trounce thier rival from Cumberland Valley, 3-0. Note to self: never play recreational volleyball with any of these young ladies without planning an emergency room visit afterward! Talk about tough, aggressive athletes who can hit the ball. As I was reading the team roster, I looked around to see a lot of familiar faces including current teachers of our son Ryan and former teachers of his older siblings Brianna (class of 2010) and Jonathon (class of 2012). That’s when it hit me. This is it. The last of the Battista kids will graduate from State High this spring.     

The football game turned into the Keaton Ellis show, as the senior scored five -- yes, five -- touchdowns in a dominant victory. The top player and leader on the volleyball court for State High was Leah Henderson. I’m happy giving Keaton and Leah public kudos because I know them to be super young people who have their priorities straight and it won’t go to their heads. I know both their parents well and know that they have helped raise quality student-athletes. I can only hope that that is the way that our kids friends’ parents feel about our children. Hopefully we did a good job, and when we didn’t, we were courageous enough to ask for help.

In my new book I tell the story of how we reached a point with Ryan, when he was a sophomore, where we felt it necessary to seek outside assistance. Perhaps we could have handled it ourselves, but I have learned over the years to check my ego in at the door and ask for help, especially when it comes to one of our kids. Ryan inherited the Battista anger gene and occasionally goes “Vesuvius” like his father, uncle and grandfather. Some would describe it as passion and competitiveness overriding discipline. We saw an immediate improvement in Ryan’s demeanor, and his academic and athletic success, once we bit the bullet and took the time to seek help from a professional.

A few weeks ago Ryan had a bit of a relapse on the golf course. This time it wasn’t the help of a sports psychologist or counselor. It was the action of State High golf coaches Greg Wilson and Jim Schaper that did the trick. What we saw was “tough love” from teachers who also happen to coach. Ryan apologized to those he needed to and suddenly went on his best string of performances for State High golf, shooting back-to-back 77s followed by a 2-under par 70. I have been playing golf for almost 50 years and have never shot a score under par for 18 holes.

Heidi and I are even more impressed at the emphasis that the coaches put on academics as a priority. It will serve Ryan well as he prepares to transition to college, not the PGA tour. He has done well in the classroom, in large part due to the caring teachers he has had in his life. Kudos to all the teachers in Ryan’s life who continue to make a difference.  

While the next National Teacher Appreciation Day in the U.S. isn’t until May 7, 2019, World Teachers Day is coming up on Oct. 5. It’s nice to have these reminders that we should take time to recognize and thank our teachers. However, here’s a novel idea. Every day should be “Thank a Teacher Day.” Why? Because education is just that important.

Oh, I can just hear the Negative Neds and Debbie Downers crying foul. “Thank a teacher?  They only work 8-3 and they get the summer off!” Wrong. If you happen to be one of the misinformed, you are forgetting the time and effort needed for planning the next day’s lessons, designing and grading tests, staff meetings, parent meetings and after school activities. I don’t know many teachers who don’t work 10-12 hour days including many weekends when school is in session, and very few actually get “the whole summer off” when you factor in continuing education requirements, training and planning.

Teaching is tougher than some people think. It can be a grind. There are days the students just don’t want to cooperate. Remember the saying, “Little kids little problems, big kids big problems?” That used to be more accurate before the age of helicopter parents. Today there is also the specter of school shootings, the opioid crisis, and the unreasonable expectations of unrealistic parents or the apathy of disengaged parents. Add in social media and technology challenges, along with diminishing funding that stretches already spartan resources even thinner, and teacher’s jobs have never been harder, or more important. Funding is a discussion for another column.

But I do have a couple of pet peeves to touch on now.  

Pet Peeve 1: Don’t blame teachers for your lack of parenting.

Pet Peeve 2: Do you spend as much time with your kids on their homework, life skills and career readiness as you do complaining about schools and teachers?

The education and preparation of young people to become adults requires the involvement of the student, the teacher and the parent/guardian to the very best of their ability.

While teachers will never get wealthy from their day jobs, the vocation can be so deeply satisfying and purposeful because it can make such a difference in people’s lives. The best teachers are caring, pragmatic and passionate.

For those of us who have been out of school a few years (OK, a lot of years), we need to set the example. Recently, I decided it was time to personally say thank you to a few teachers who made a difference at key times in my life. Mr. Frank Kologie straightened out this class clown in 5th grade and has remained a great friend to this day. I have even connected with his nephew Nate who is a current Penn State student. Mr. K cared enough to sit me down in 5th grade and tell me in a caring but “passionate” way that if I would channel my energy in a positive way, I would be a class leader instead of a class clown.

Joe Battista and Frank Kologie

Coach Bob Ford was my health and physical education teacher and cross-country coach. He always led by example, and was one of the best role models anyone could ever ask for in school. He challenged young people to be all they could be. Even in retirement he continued to create curriculum for training other teachers. First and foremost, Coach Ford was a servant leader. He inspired me to be more than I ever thought possible. He and his wife, Philomena, played a big role in sponsoring my upcoming induction into the PA Sports Hall of Fame. I owe them both for making a difference in my life. 

I hand delivered a copy of my book to Mr. K and Coach Ford. A few days later Mr. K called to say he had finished the book. He said, “I can’t believe little Joey Battista wrote this book. It should be mandatory for all high school and college students and their parents!” Well, that made me feel like a million bucks. Then Coach Ford texted me a few days later with a similar sentiment about what he got out of the book. “Joe, I just finished the ‘Power of Pragmatic Passion.’ You have a winner! So proud of you, Coach Ford.”

Take time today to thank a teacher who made a difference in your life or is making a difference in your child’s life. Reach out and thank your teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, and administrators.

As I come to grips with this being our last child’s final year it is with great respect that I salute all the educators of our children, going back to Maureen Kauffman, Sarah Sampsell, Michelle Smiles-Wehr, and the rest of the Learning Station staff.  Mrs. Shoemaker, Mr. Hockenberry, Mrs. Shoffner, Mrs. McGann, Mrs. Isola, Mr. Kissel, Mrs. Verbeck, Mr. Jameson, Mrs. Hayes, Mrs. Kondash, Ms. Cornwell, Ms. Bowersox, Mr. Tranell, Mrs. Bicehouse, Mr. Bliel, Mr. Furmanek, Mrs. Patterson, Mrs. Kononov, Mrs. Gattis, Mrs. Mayberry, Mrs. Davis, Coach Wilson, Coach Williams, Coach Schaper and I could go on and on.  I apologize to those I didn’t get to list but with three kids spanning 1994-2018, well, you get the picture.

So stop what you are doing right now, dig back into your memory banks and think of the teachers, counselors, coaches, principals, administrative staff and school board members who have made a difference in your life or the life of your children. Every day can be “Thank a Teacher Day.”



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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