Last summer I returned to my hometown for a high school reunion. It was only my second visit to Brookfield, a small town in north central Missouri, in 43 years, and the weeks leading up to the reunion became a time of reflection on what it had been like to grow up there. I found myself thinking about the many teachers in the Brookfield schools who helped me become the person I am today.
Then I read that Eldon Seaboldt would be a judge in the annual Alumni Talent Parade. Most students knew him as Mr. Seaboldt, the high school chemistry teacher. I knew him as Coach Seaboldt, my ninth grade basketball coach.
I was not one of the better players to be on the team. In fact, when we had a full scrimmage I was not among the first 10 on the floor. While I spent most games near the end of the bench, I learned much from Coach Seaboldt that year, especially in practice. He taught us about the game of basketball. He taught us about life. In the years that followed, I realized he also taught us about leadership.
I recall a practice when Coach Seaboldt talked to us about the importance of angles in the game of basketball. I think he was teaching the angle of a bank shot, but he may have been talking about the angle of defending the passing lane, or breaking a full court press.
I recall another practice when Coach Seaboldt gathered us at center court and talked about the difference between being confident and being cocky. He talked about how it affects the way you play the game, how it affects the way you live your life, and how it affects success, in both basketball and life. If memory serves correctly, this was the day after a game in which we had been a bit too full of our ninth grade selves. It was a teachable moment.
In my work over the past 25 years, I have thought a lot about leadership. Occasionally, I think about the geometry of leadership, about the angles of interpersonal relationships, the angles of organizational behavior, the angles of planning and executing strategy, the angles of communicating in a crisis. At other times, I am reminded that the best leaders inspire confidence, not arrogance.
I did not learn these lessons when reading books on leadership. I did not learn these lessons while attending seminars at Harvard. I learned these lessons at the age of 14 in the winter of 1972-73 in the gymnasium in the musty basement of the old Brookfield High School. My teacher was Coach Eldon Seaboldt.
As I prepared to venture back to my hometown, I thought about Coach Seaboldt and other teachers who had been so important to me. In that process, it occurred to me that for these people, teaching was not a job. For them, teaching was a calling. It was a way of life grown out of a call to a life that gives, and to a journey that serves. For them, teaching was what we Christians call a vocation.
Frederick Buechner wrote about vocation in this way.
“It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to by God… The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done… The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
In this season of Thanksgiving, I thank God for those who have responded to the call to teach, for those whose lives stand at the intersection of their great passion for teaching and our deep need to learn.
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and ordained in the United Methodist Church.