Great Teachers Teach Great Expectations

May 06, 2014Justin Wedell

May 6 is National Teacher Day. Take a moment to #ThankaTeacher that has made a difference in your life or your community.

Mr. Bullard had a whistle and a yardstick and a voice so loud it could rattle your bones. A man of Andre the Giant-proportions, he was a former college football player who had found his way into teaching 8th grade science, and he loved every minute of it. His classroom wasn’t just class – it was sport – and each day’s topic had the importance of a 4th and long play on the final drive of the game.

I came into Mr. Bullard’s science class at the stereotypical adolescent crossroads. I was a relatively useless 13 year old boy: good grades, slightly overweight, mightily focused on videogames, and all-too-content to let my personal, depressingly vanilla status-quo continue. Mr. Bullard, however, would have none of it.

That’s because in addition to a whistle and a yardstick and voice so loud it could set off a car alarm, Mr. Bullard had high expectations. He expected every student who crossed his path to do great things and more importantly, that we expect it too. Mr. Bullard pushed us all to embrace our potential and expand beyond our complacency. Through his madcap, motivational ferocity, we came to believe that we could and should do more. And for so many of us that shared his class, we did.  To this day, I refuse to stop cultivating my skills and expanding my opportunities – honoring a self-worth that it took just one teacher to make abundantly clear.

When I consider the myriad issues at stake in education today, I find myself returning time and time again to this notion of great expectations. Truly excellent teachers excel in this area. Yes, instructional ability is essential, but it is only one component to the broader role that teachers serve in shaping our lives and establishing the path for our future success. Those teachers who set great expectations for their students – regardless of background, class, or life situation – provide a sincere belief in opportunity, which is an unfortunately precious commodity for far too many of our youth. This sense of opportunity is something that every student in this country inarguably deserves: opportunity for improvement, opportunity for achievement, opportunity for a future beyond whatever reality they may currently inhabit. The teachers we remember most are those who understood this.

This week, reflect on the teachers who had expectations for you beyond those that you had for yourself. Think about how they influenced where you are today. At the same time, give pause to reflect on all those students for whom such expectations do not currently exist. That number is unconscionably vast.

Mr. Bullard had a whistle and a yardstick and a voice so loud it could scare the birds from the trees… but it could also inspire and motivate and make you believe that you were worth more than any previous personal or social estimation. To all the Mr. Bullards of the world, I have only gratitude. I hope that you continue to grow in number so that all students may one day have the opportunity to realize that they can and will break the mold. Thank you for expecting nothing less.  



Image courtesy of Supertrooper /

About Justin Wedell

As Manager of the Nonprofit Empowerment Program, Justin Wedell is responsible for maintaining and supporting the Foundation's global portfolio of capacity building services, including the HR Pro Bono Corps and Gift of Learning.

Previously, Justin was a... more


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