A story about one of my first accounting classes and the teacher who made it possible
Allow me to share a story with you. It leads in to what I will most likely post tomorrow: Failure is another word for opportunity.
The setting: During the summer before my Junior year of college I applied to my second major in the Terry College of business – Accounting. I had heard that not many people are either a) crazy or b) stupid enough to double major in Finance and Accounting – they are two very technical majors and they both require a lot of time and effort. Well, naturally, that only increased my desire to double major (I am a bit competitive). I got into the accounting major, and I was set to start my major classes in the fall of 2008.
One of my classes was Dr. Thayer’s Intermediate Accounting I at 9:05, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It was Dr. Thayer’s FIRST EVER CLASS at UGA and she was just starting her teaching career. I heeded the advice of my mother and went in to Dr. Thayer’s office hours on the first day to introduce myself and establish a relationship so that I would feel comfortable going to ask questions, contributing in class, etc. First problem: if you go in to get to know the teacher, they will know whether or not you are in class.
Let’s just say it was a bad semester to set out on an ambitious mission of completing two of Terry’s very difficult majors. Add in the fact that I was still very much in need of some maturation, I was starting the Leonard Scholars program, serving on Dawg Camp’s Exec Board, and serving as the head of pledge education for my fraternity, and I had a recipe for exhaustion and burnout. The first thing to go? Sleep. Second? Class attendance because I was running myself ragged and kept oversleeping the alarm.
The Story: Fast forward to the withdrawal deadline (midpoint in the semester which is the last chance to withdraw from the class and not receive a failing mark). My attendance record was abismal, my grades reflect my lack of attendance, and my relationship with Dr. Thayer was understandably in the dumps. I went in to see her during office hours to talk about my outlook for the class and whether or not I should consider dropping the class. After my friend came out of her office, he let me know that Dr. Thayer had seen me and told him that she had absolutely nothing to say to me. Great. I entered her office, and the conversation went something like this:
Barrett, I don’t know what you want me to say to you right now. You came in here at the beginning of the semester and seemed like the kind of student who I could expect great things from. Instead you have been one of the biggest disappointments of any of my classes, and I quite honestly don’t care whether you drop the class or stay in it. If you drop, you will receive a well-deserved WF [withdrawal with a failing grade], and if you stay in the class, there is absolutely no way in the world that you could ever bounce back and pass. You can pick because I have no opinion. I don’t know how you expect to get anywhere in the accounting world with a reputation like this.
Wow. All of this from a small, even-keeled, very nice and soft-spoken Texan that really seemed to love teaching and care about her students. If you’ve ever been punched in the gut/ felt like a failure/ had your parents tell you how disappointing you were, all at the same time, then you know how I felt as I left that office.
I see this experience as one of the greatest opportunities for personal growth in my life. I had three choices: accept that I had failed and drop the class, stay in the class and try to skate by, or change my attitude and work hard to achieve a passing grade in the class and restore somewhat of a decent reputation.
I am not one to give up, and rather than allow myself to feel beaten up and broken down, I challenged myself to live values (I had no idea what that meant at the time, but with hindsight I was living values) and step up to the plate to make a teacher proud that deserved better students than me.
Fast forward to the end of the semester: I didn’t make less than a B on another quiz, homework, test, or other graded assignment. I was able to bring my grade up to a solid C (Believe me, that was as good as it could possibly get). I don’t think I missed a single class for the remainder of the semester. Finally, and best of all, I knew that I had done what Dr. Thayer had said was nearly impossible based on my performance and commitment in the first half of the semester.
The important take-aways are these:
1) As a leader, different types of people respond in different ways to challenges. Dr. Thayer happened to hit a nerve that resulted in my long-term (relative) success in her class. I’ll never know whether it was intentional or not, but it sure did work.
2) Failure is another word for opportunity (more on this tomorrow).
3) Sometimes, the keys to success are downright hard work and perseverance.
4) Teachers deserve our best. Whether or not it seems as though they bring passion to the classroom everyday, they are there day in and day out. They deserve class attendance, a genuine commitment to learning, and passion from their students. If students would go into each class with a better attitude, I would be willing to bet that more teachers would be indispensable in the lives of young people everywhere.