- Early lessons in life help shape the future of our young people. Teachers can help.
- My students taught me that nature and conservation are important in today’s world.
- The students brought in venison, rabbit, squirrel, and pheasant – suddenly, the world was a better place.
By Bob Holzhei
I was fortunate to grow up on a family farm in the 1950s, in the outdoors. I learned many lessons early in life that shaped my future.
Daily chores included sweeping the grain elevator and shoveling oats, wheat, or navy beans into the “pit” where the grain was transferred upstairs into grain bins for storage.
The first lesson I learned was to work up to my dad’s expectations. If I fell short, there was no supper provided that evening. True fact.
It only took one lesson to teach me.
My father was neither mean nor cruel, simply clear of his expectations. That lesson would shape my future and lead to my graduation from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree. I became a teacher.
I student taught at St. Johns High School and was eventually offered a teaching position, retiring following 37 years of service there.
Over those years, I learned there are two kinds of smart: book smart and hands-on smart.
The book smart folks went to college while the hands-on smart folks excelled in various skilled trades. Both types of “smart” are essential, more now than ever!
I taught two classes of hands-on smart students. I discovered early as a teacher that one needed to meet each student where they were in life to move them ahead.
Each year after meeting a new class, the students would learn to call me “Uncle Bob.” A student asked me, “Hey, Uncle Bob, can we have a wild game after-school dinner feast if we all get our school work in?”
“You bet,” was my reply.
Over those years, the entourage of students taught me a vital teacher lesson. Instead of prodding the class to get work in, I had the students that finished their work early help those who lagged behind.
The classroom became a dynamic hands-on experience.
The day of the wild game meal arrived, and I had reserved the home economics room to hold the celebration. The students brought in venison, rabbit, squirrel, and pheasant. Suddenly, my principal arrived and asked, “How in the hell can you justify this? I want to see you in my office after school!”
I humbly whispered to him, “Real easy, look over there at that table. See the boy eating off the other students’ plate? He didn’t have breakfast this morning and can’t afford to buy a school lunch.”
Still, the principal left the home economics room very angry.
After school, I went to the principal’s office.
“You wanted to see me,” I stated.
“Not anymore. I don’t know what you do to motivate those losers; just keep doing it.”
I followed with a response. “Shame on you! Every student deserves to have an equal opportunity for a good education. To only focus on the book smart kids whose parents own businesses in town is wrong!”
Another lesson learned from my students!
Wild game food provided a pathway to celebrate accomplishment among my students, leading the way to a much-improved classroom life for everyone. The principal learned that the sweet-smelling aroma from perfectly cooked rabbits, squirrels, and deer can bring folks together to appreciate each other and nature.
Life lessons have extended to a well-deserved destination when the classroom and conservation come together.
Editor Note – About the Author: Robert E. Holzhei is an inspirational factual and fictional author, he has published more than 425 outdoor travel stories and several motivsational books, including The Mountains Shall Depart (2017), The Hills Shall Be Removed (2018), Canadian Fly-In Fishing Adventure (1993), and Alaskan Spirit Journey (1999). He is the recipient of five national writing awards from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), including 1st Place in the Best of Best Newspaper Story, and multiple additional awards for writing (including three presidential awards). He has also been recognized by the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association and the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association. His books can be found for purchase on Amazon.