Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Unforgettable Interview

About 6 or 7 years ago, I interviewed a teacher named Jake Huggins.  He seemed like a nice guy; he had a few years under his belt; and I thought he might be a nice addition to our faculty.  But he took away any doubt when he answered one question.  This was always my favorite question:

"Jake... in every school in America, you can place teachers on a continuum.  On one end of the continuum are teachers who don't seem to want to be there.  They're always complaining about something.  Their colleagues wonder why they haven't retired yet. They're a drag on the collective energy of the school.  But on the other end of that continuum are the teachers who are always excited to be at work.  They love the students; they value their colleagues; and they lift the spirits of all those around them.  When graduates come back to visit, these are the teachers they want to see.  So Jake... what is the difference between these two teachers?  What is the 'X factor?'  Because that's what we're looking for here." 

Most teachers would talk about passion, or talk about the fact that the second teacher isn't just coming to work for a paycheck; they're coming to work to make a difference.  I think those are good answers, but Jake said something different -- something I'll never forget.  He answered something like this:

"You know, I think every teacher is idealistic when they start their career.  Almost every new teacher has passion; they love kids; and they want to make a difference.  But after several years, you hit a little bit of a wall.  There's this reality check.  You realize this job is hard.  There are a lot of papers to grade.  Some students make it really hard to teach.  And parents are not always supportive.  I think some teachers just don't seem to move beyond these frustrations.  They burn out.  But others are able to maintain their sense of purpose in spite of the challenges.  Their work is hard, but they remain convinced that it matters. Some students are challenging, but they are aware of how much they need a teacher not to give up on them.   They deal with adversity, but it doesn't steal their passion.  These are the teachers who get to make a difference year after year."

We hired Jake.   And this past week, he was named the school's "Teacher of the Year."  So I salute Jake Huggins... and all those other teachers who got past that "reality check" and retained their passion for students.  They are making a difference... year after year.


  1. Congratulations to Jake and all the other amazing teachers out there! I love his response to this question!

  2. Dr. Steele! Beth House shared this on facebook, and I am so glad she did. I have always felt like there was something magical about that interview as well. You, Mr. Nichols, and Renee Brown put me at ease, and it was, dare I say, fun! But in that short interview, you inspired me so much. That one year I taught under you was filled with so much inspiration. After that, I remember thinking every time I saw that you would be in a meeting in which I had to attend, "Yes! Here comes some great but calmly delivered wisdom!" You have always inspired me, man! That one year with you made such a difference in my career. Since then, I have done my best to begin each day by looking at the wrist band you gave me and tell myself, "I am the difference."

  3. Dude... you're awesome. Thanks for buying in! And congrats on a well deserved honor!

  4. I continue to share that interview story, too! Not only does it transport me to a time when I was involved with an amazing leadership team, and was a teency-weency part of welcoming a delightful colleague, but retelling Jake's insightful answer also recharges me when the wall is looming large. Thanks for sharing this, Dr. Steele. Thanks for being Jake Huggins, Jake. :)

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