Updated on 03.11.11

Ten Pieces of Inspiration #10

Trent Hamm

Each week, I highlight ten things each week that inspired me to greater financial, personal, and professional success. Hopefully, they will inspire you as well.

1. A brother learning, a brother teaching
My two sons have been amazing this past week.


Our ten month old (the baby) has been trying very hard to learn how to crawl and to pull himself up on things for the past few weeks. His older brother has pretty much been his coach, constantly demonstrating how to do it. He’ll lay on the floor with his baby brother and slowly show him how to get into a crawling position, then take off. Or, he’ll slowly pull himself up to standing using the coffee table or the couch edge.

His younger brother is learning from him. Over the last week, he’s started pulling himself up onto things and just barely started to crawl.

The looks they give each other are just amazing. It’s the look of two people who love each other and who want to learn and to teach.

Last night, the younger one was crying. It was nearly his bedtime and it was just the type of crying that a tired baby does. Our oldest went over to him and gave the baby a Spider-Man toy, one that’s solid and without any moving parts that the baby couldn’t choke on or break any pieces off of. The baby stopped crying and had a death grip on the Spider-Man toy. He held it as he went to sleep and for the entire time he slept.

2. Lady Gaga acoustic
I’ve largely written off most pop performers for the last decade or so as being pretty faces paired with gifted songwriters and a healthy dose of Autotune. When a friend of mine sent me a video of Lady Gaga performing a song acoustically, I expected a train wreck.

Instead, I was quite impressed.

She puts piano play and vocals together incredibly well here, something I wish I could do. I’d far rather listen to this than to the over-electronicized version of this song that was actually released.

3. Robert Allen on maturity
“Maturity begins on the day we accepts responsibility for our own actions.” – Robert Allen

It is so easy to blame someone else or something else for the mistakes we make in life. It’s the boss’s fault we got fired. It’s the government’s fault that I can’t find a job. It’s my mother’s fault for instilling me with a poor work ethic. And so on.

Guess what? Each and every second, you’re the one deciding what to do with your time. When you fluff off at work and eventually get fired, it’s not the boss’s fault. It’s your fault, for consistently choosing to fluff off.

Your own actions are largely responsible for the outcome of your situation, good or bad. Take responsibility for that.

4. Mondrian cake
Most of us are familiar with the artwork of Piet Mondrian. His famous paintings are gridlike and very orderly, with only a smattering of color breaking up the black and white.

I loved this reinterpretation of his artwork in the form of a cake.

Mondrian Cake

Many thanks to mc barnicle for the picture.

5. Dante on teaching
“If you give people light, they will find their own way.” – Dante

Over the last week, I have become increasingly frustrated at the ongoing war on teachers. I’m married to a teacher, and I see every day the amount of dedication and hard work it takes to be an effective teacher. You don’t just go in and punch the clock. Any teacher worth a pinch of salt is staying after almost every day to help students or to coach an activity. They take piles of papers home to grade on the weekends. They’re stopping at stores to pick up supplies to help with education, often buying them out of pocket.

“Yeah, but they get the summers off.” In most states, they don’t. Many states have summer school teaching programs. Other states require teachers to spend their summers getting further education just to maintain their teaching license. If you want to advance in the profession (to teach AP classes and the like), you have to obtain additional degrees, again during the summer. These expenses are almost always out of pocket.

I was inspired by a great many teachers in my life. Some of the biggest inspirations were my second grade teacher, Mrs. Ferguson; my high school English teacher, Mr. Byrn; and my college biology professor and advisor, Dr. Dolphin. Those three are at the head of the line, but I could name many teachers that had a profound positive impact on my life. They stayed after school to help with extracurricular activities or to be there for students who needed more help. They sponsored clubs and coached teams outside the school day, often for no compensation. Their office doors were always open if I needed help – or if anyone else needed help.

Teachers are underpaid, not overpaid, and there’s not nearly enough of them. If we as a society continue to put a crunch on teachers, making it so that they can’t afford to be in the classroom any more, the ones with ability will leave. So much for training the next generation.

I am extremely happy with every tax dollar of mine that goes into the public school system, and I wish a larger percentage of my tax dollars went there. Cutting back on and insulting teachers is an incredibly unhealthy precedent for the future of America.

6. David Foster Wallace on learning how to think
Choose what you think about and you’ll think more effectively.

“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” – David Foster Wallace

In other words, if you find your mind wandering to thoughts of Charlie Sheen’s “tiger blood,” catch yourself and put some effort into thinking about something else more worthwhile and valuable for your time.

(Yes, I’m pretty sure the word choice of “totally hosed” was intentional and not convenient slang.)

7. Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Pride and Joy” acoustic
I love acoustic performances. They really show the musicianship of the player. Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of the best guitarists of all time, and this performance shows it.

To me, it sounds like there are several guitarists playing at once. I’m also impressed how he can get the crowd back into it at various points without dropping the melody. The amount of hard work and dedication that this level of skill requires is mind-blowing and a real testament to the power of practice.

8. Videos of soldiers returning home to see children
These five videos got me.

Regardless of how I feel about military conflicts, I have immense respect for the sacrifice that members of the military make, particularly ones with children. The people in these videos obviously are deeply loved by their children. They’re good people, doing a tremendously difficult job, and they’ve earned my respect.

9. I Have A Dream, broken down
One of the most valuable lessons anyone ever gave me was when one of my mentors told me to watch the famous Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” speech. Here it is again:

He told me not to watch it for what was being said (though that is powerful). He told me to watch how King delivers the speech. How he takes pauses in between the key points. How he constrains his emotions and only lets them fly at very key moments in the speech. How he speaks slower than people often do in conversation.

Everything you really need to know about speaking in public and having an impact is right here.

10. Bill Moyers on reading and television
To me, this sums up why I often turn off the screen and turn on the printed page.

“Television can stir emotions, but it doesn’t invite reflection as much as the printed page.” – Bill Moyers

Television programs are great for making me laugh or cry, but it rarely makes me think or reconsider the world around me. Mostly, it just reinforces what I already think.

If I want to grow and succeed in the world, I need to reflect on new ideas and expand my mind. A book does that far more effectively.

Turn off the television sometime soon and open up a book.

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  1. Mari says:

    As a teacher of almost 20 years (at all levels of education–elementary to university), I appreciate your support of and concern for the profession. I have seen my best colleagues drift away from the profession, precisely for the reasons that you state. Not too many people would be content to earn less than $50,000 with 13 years of college education and two graduate degrees. But those who love to teach and mentor at the university level often do.

    And thanks for the Lady Ga-Ga video–I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. I wish she’d release those versions. :)

  2. kristine says:

    I am a relatively new teacher- 4 years-with a background making a lot of money in the private sector. I quit to teach for 3 reasons- more daylight hours with my kids ( I was often working 12-14 hour days), I wanted to contribute to the world (this becomes increasingly important as I age), and I am very good at training and explaining with a lot of pro expertise in my field.

    I have to say that teaching is the most emotionally demanding job there is -even though I had overseen a pretty large staff of artists and writers as a pro. Everything you said is on the money, especially about the fallacy of short days and summer off.

  3. AndreaS says:

    I agree teachers for the most part are getting a bad rap. The problem is not about the quality of education, but that the children are increasingly lacking in family structure and discipline which begins in the home. With so few children growing up with both bio parents, it is clear to me this has had a huge impact. Yes, many kids are doing just fine, but overall it can’t be good. One inner city teacher tole me that out of her entire class, only one pupil came from a two-parent home. She spends most of her energy trying to discipline and has less time left for actual teaching.
    Blaming teachers is different from questioning compensation. I have a brother-in-law who was a grade-school science teacher. He worked in a state that forgives student loans if you become a teacher. After 25 years, he retired and gets a nice pension and paid health care for life. He is quite obese, diabetic, and doing nothing to take care of his health. Within the last couple years he was treated for prostate cancer. Taxpayers are picking up the tab for his choices. It is not a matter of whether he “deserves” this, it is a matter of whether states can afford to pay what prior politicians promised government workers so they (the politicians) could get get re-elected.

  4. Laundry Lady says:

    I don’t think anyone argues that good teachers are overpaid. I think the issue is that there aren’t nearly as many teachers approaching the profession for the right reasons as there used to be. I can’t tell you the number of friends from college who pursued teaching for the summers off, virtually guaranteed raises (at least in this state) and future possibility of tenure. Many of them don’t put in the extra hours, just as many other younger workers don’t in any profession. Their jobs as teachers are just jobs, not callings, and they put in the minimum required. But since in our state, seniority is all that matters, a few years of good work can result in job security for years of mediocre efforts. I don’t begrudge good teachers their salaries or benefits. I get irritated with administrators for not being willing to deal with teachers who don’t deserve to be the profession. These teachers diminish the rest and it isn’t fair to keep them around even if they have “seniority.” I have seen tenured teachers behave so selfishly. In our district there was a choice between negotiating a smaller yearly raise (3 to 5% instead of the 7% guaranteed by the contract) rather than cut programs or layoff teachers. The union refused to discuss it. They wouldn’t even negotiate. So in the end a lot of teachers lost their jobs. Considering no one in the private sector even got a raise last year I thought the decision of the teacher’s union was short sited. Those are the kind of things that make the public believe teachers are only interested in money, even if it isn’t true.

  5. Amy says:

    This series reminds me of CBS Sunday Morning in blog form. Random interesting bits of information that make you think. Love it!

  6. Mary says:

    I’m a teacher as well, and I’ve been really horrified at how much people have been vilifying my profession–one “friend” even wrote an “aren’t teachers awful” type comment on my facebook page. Thanks for sticking up for us!

  7. Stephan F- says:

    The problem generally isn’t the teachers, its the system they are forced to work in that is completely dysfunctional.
    Rubber rooms, insane rules making it almost impossible to fire anyone but the molesters and it still takes years to get them out, union bosses who are in it for political reasons and not for the children, the active suppression of dissident teaching techniques.

    We used to have a 95+% literacy rate, now the schools system doesn’t believe we can get it over 80% even if we wanted too. It is like parts of education are entering a dark age. There are bad teachers and bad parents, but they are a tiny minority so ignore them for now even if they do make the most noise, and realize the problem is bigger then that.

  8. Mel says:

    I’d like to add my voice to those supporting teachers. I am outside US so I’m not quite sure exactly what the current issues are, but my feeling is that in almost every developed country, teachers are undervalued and underpaid.

    Teachers can make or break a child’s love for learning, which can affect their entire future. I know I went from loving maths to *hating* it in one year, because of one awful, terrible teacher (I’m now a computer programmer and live in a house with 2 Maths professors – I guess I eventually got over that!). I also actually enjoyed learning Latin and studying English and Classics because of incredible teachers.

    Along with more money and more respect, I think teachers deserve to see the bad ones marched out – they’re worse than a waste of space and money, they can destroy confidence and futures.

  9. kristine says:

    If your BIL did not have medical at all, and went on Medicaid- we all pay for it anyway. In the end, unaffordable medical care is shouldered by the taxpayers. Or not, and then contagious diseases rise.

    Food for thought:
    Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators,
    effectively banning teachers unions. Those states and their SAT/ACT rankings are as follows:
    South Carolina – 50th
    North Carolina – 49th
    Georgia – 48th
    Texas – 47th
    Virginia – 44th

  10. Rose says:

    Trent, this statement sounds incredibly uninformed and knee-jerk reactionary:

    “I am extremely happy with every tax dollar of mine that goes into the public school system, and I wish a larger percentage of my tax dollars went there.”

    Let’s pretend that your food budget was out of control because you didn’t know about healthy foods, and you didn’t know where to begin with cooking. You were dismayed at the situation and longed for improvement, yet you believed that food was an important part of your budget and shouldn’t be short-changed. Would you say, “I am extremely happy with every dollar of my income that goes into the food budget, and I wish a larger percentage of my income went there”? Would you continue with your bad habits, splurging on expensive foods and letting them rot in your fridge because you didn’t know how to properly prepare them, pleased with yourself that you’re spending more money so things must be getting better? Of course not. You need to figure out your weak points and solve your efficiency problems.

    I know it’s a weak analogy, but the point is that throwing more money at any problem won’t necessarily solve it. You have to look at the deeper issues.

    As other commenters have said, I too fully support teachers and want them to receive a reasonable compensation package. The problem is with a broken system that, through tenure, rewards incompetents and ignoramuses, and wastes incredible amount of taxpayer money on bureaucratic tangles, administrative overhead, etc. We need to solve the deeper problems with our education system before anything can improve much.

  11. Kate says:

    Thanks, Trent, for the pat on the back for teachers. Because you have intimate knowledge of what a teacher does, you can see that what is happening to teachers is horrendous. The myths surrounding the teaching profession are just that…myths. They say that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have spent time in that person’s shoes. I would love to see some of the people who insist that teachers are overpaid and overcompensated to spend one year in a classroom and then see if they still think that.
    Teachers in my state start out at around $31,000 and, because of furloughs and no step raises, have had a pay decrease their first year. As much as I love and support public education, I wonder why any young person would choose it as a career…luckily there are still some young idealists (I refuse to believe that they are all lazy and looking for an easy ride as Laundry Lady suggests).

  12. Paula says:

    Well, I have to say that my son’s special ed teachers are some of the most dedicated that I have seen! He has autism and some days his behavior gets in the way of his learning despite being on meds. It is because of them, that he is learning to read, does basic math, and is having conversations with his peers. This is the first year that he has been able to be mainstreamed into the regular classroom for a portion of his day (and he is in the second grade).

    Oh, and my son LOVES school. He has discovered the solar system and loves to draw. His teachers have never given up on him, even when we wondered if the public school could handle him. They have given us hope for his future and that, to me, is priceless…in my opinion they don’t get paid enough for all they do!

  13. spaces says:

    My spouse is a professor. Like K-12 teachers, they do not “get summers off”. Yet an administrator had the nerve to say that they do at a university function. The administrator was called out on this — He should have and probably did know that professors spend the summer often teaching, doing research, writing, preparing for the long semesters by developing new classes, class preps, etc. All tasks above and beyond the classroom that are demanded by the profession. It’s was disheartening to have the ‘summers off’ myth repeated by someone who did know better.

    I, too, wish I could pay more tax dollars into education. Instead of taxing, my state is proposing to raise class sizes to 28 for K-5, somewhat higher for 6-12, possibly get rid of K altogether, and get rid of 12th grade. And of course salary freezes (but no freezes on summer expectations, including paying for your own graduate studies).

  14. Michael says:

    Excellent analogy, Rose.

    Somehow, we have to find a way to commend teachers for their effort while recognizing that as a group, they are not as effective as they should be.

    This unqualified praise of teachers *and their results* is like using “support the troops” to defend any war.

  15. Kate says:

    Beg to disagree, Michael. You are lumping all teachers together and saying that they are not effective as a group. Do you mean all teachers in the United States? All teachers in the Western Hemisphere? All teachers in the world? Any group lumped together likely will come out on the bad end, especially when we, as a society, neither value our teachers or education in general.
    Doctors? They should be able to cure all patients, no matter what their ailment or the patients history. They went to school, after all, to study medicine. If they don’t get 100% effectiveness…they aren’t doing their job.
    Dentists? No person in this nation should have a cavity in their head. Dentists went to school, after all, to study dentistry and how to prevent cavities. Why aren’t they doing their job?
    Sound stupid? That’s how teachers feel. We get kids when they are five years old. Five years old! How much of a child’s life is already set by then. Read some of the studies that indicate how much impact a parent has on a child’s future learning. We get kids who come to school who have never opened a book. Never been talked to except for being yelled at or cussed at. We have kids who come to school who have taken care of themselves since they were three and four years old because their parents are trying to make ends meet and working two jobs. But if children don’t learn, it is because a teacher isn’t doing their job.

  16. STL Mom says:

    If my school district’s referendum doesn’t pass, my son’s fantastic teacher who is six months short of tenure will be fired. In her place will be some mediocre teacher who has been passed from school to school in the district because she has tenure, and can’t be fired. No one wants her, but no one can get rid of her.
    I’d be happy to pay teachers more, if we can get rid of tenure. Doing a decent job for five years shouldn’t get you a job for life.
    Without tenure, there’s no guarantee that all teachers will be good teachers, or that principals will make good decisions. But it irks me to hear parent after parent talk about the teacher that no one wants to get, but that we are stuck with. And if he or she has been there long enough, that teacher no one wants makes $105,000/year plus fabulous benefits.

  17. Nick says:

    Laundry Lady- As a recent college grad from a Wisconsin college, many (probably the majority) of my friends and classmates majored in education, or are currently in a post-degree program for teaching. Every single one of them is in it because they truly want to teach, not because they get summers off, or because of the benefits, etc. In fact, most of them have been discouraged from becoming a teacher by their family or someone else, because of the terrible climate they would be entering into.

    Due to the events here in WI in the last few weeks several of them are now reconsidering becoming teachers. My brother has worked at an afterschool program the last year while going back to school to teach. Now he’s deciding what else he could do with an English degree and a partial one in Elementary Ed.

  18. Jordan says:

    I second your comments on teachers. As a child of two teachers, I saw how hard they worked. Good teachers are critical to the development of the next generation and the future of the world. They should be paid far far more than they receive.

  19. VickiB says:

    Good teachers work hard, and I can think of a handful who will always be an influence on my life, even 25 years after leaving public school. But as many have commented here, I do believe the system is broken. The families are broken, and the teachers and schools are too bogged down dealing with problems created by this. Schools are now defacto baby sitters. I work with many parents, and they get very ANGRY when there’s a school delay or inservice day, etc. The attitude is” Stupid school – now I have to scramble”. And schools are also expected to provide 2 meals a day (I was a headstart volunteer for several years and I can tell you it often starts in preschool), provide conseling, provide afterschool for the kids who can’t keep up, etc. Now even COMMUNITY COLLEGES (those are for legal adults BTW) are criticized for not picking out the “Jared Lochners” in the group??? Schools are for knowledge and teaching. They are stretched too thin, and have taken on too many parenting functions. Private and parochial schools, though the pay is less than the public schools, see success because they are about ACADEMICS. I can see the downside, but I don’t blame parents who homeschool ONE BIT.

  20. Kate says:

    Agree with what you are saying, VickiB. In my state there was concern about obesity in kids so the legislators passed a law that said that kids needed PE twice a week instead of two. No extra funds were allocated for this extra PE (PE teachers must grow on trees and work for nothing?). There is still concern about obesity in children so legislators are proposing that MORE PE time be added. Character education is also a requirement, but most guidance counselors (if schools even have them) are so tied up with mandated testing and now, keeping up with record transfers for the flow of children from one school to another, because of financial situations (i.e. eviction) or the parent’s ability to choose a school for a child. There should be a statute that parents are allowed to choose their child’s school at the beginning of the year and they have to stick with that choice–we have kids who have moved in and out of our school four and five times in a school year because the grass is always greener on the other side–if they get mad at a teacher or are under scrutiny for attendance problems, the kids are gone for awhile until the heat gets too bad at the new school.
    Unfortunately, though, when the system is broken the people who catch the blame are the ones in the trenches…the teachers.

  21. Michael says:

    Kate, I realize TSD has an international audience, but I meant US teachers as a group.

    If you believe teachers can’t fix broken children, then what good is a teacher? I believe that teachers can make a difference, so I expect them to!

    The comparison to medical professionals is a good one. One major concern I have is teachers getting education/pedagogy degrees instead of degrees in the fields they teach (and relying on solid liberal arts for elementary teaching of all subjects.) It is like seeing a doctor with a degree in bedside manner.

  22. Michael says:

    A couple clarifications:
    I do think method matters, but the opportunity cost of subject mastery is too high. My wife is a teacher and effective materials and discussions are frequently discussed at our dinner table. Unfortunately, in addition to the opportunity cost of an education major, there is the good chance that the pedagogy has net negative benefit when applied!

    Secondly, I agree with the comments about teachers expected to be social workers too, and I want to make clear that our national and state education departments are breaking teachers much more than teachers are breaking the departments. This is the worst problem, in my opinion. Perhaps concentrating on this is the best way to “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

  23. Kate says:

    Michael: Aah…so it is only US teachers who rate poorly as a group? My problem with the way we now educate children is that we expect them to progress lockstep in a linear manner with the federally mandated expectation that every child in the United States is supposed to test “proficient” on state-mandated tests by 2014. Which means that teachers are finding it incredibly difficult to take time to get to know children in their classroom and to build community within the classroom, etc., etc. It is the relationships with teachers and in the classroom that often “fixes” kids.
    By putting kids on a treadmill so early on and expecting them to stay on that treadmill lockstep from kindergarten to graduation is appalling. Anyone who studies child development knows that a child’s development is rarely linear and to expect proficiency every year of ALL children (learning disabled, autistic, emotionally disabled, etc.–ALL children) is asking for failure. Some of my most successful, bright, innovative friends did very poorly in school and several of them really struggled learning to read. Btw…the very worst teachers that I had in my high school career were science teachers who came to the classroom from industry and I had several because of the teacher shortage. A good teacher can teach almost anything, given the time to master the subject matter, especially in elementary school.

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