The Best Lessons in School are Not Always Understood at the Time

Something that I often try to do is to be very cognizant of how I use certain words.

For example, I explicitly say “top academic students” when referring to students who do well based on measures that a school deems important. But “top academic students” and your “smartest students” are not always the same. Some of the most brilliant people in the world didn’t do too well in school. Was their intelligence dismissed because we were looking to fit them within a specific context or box because that was what someone else deemed as a sign of intelligence?

The other set of words that come to mind are “administrator” and “leader.” These two words are often used synonymously (which I have also been guilty of!), but one is “assigned,” and the other is based on the perception of others.

For example, not all administrators are leaders, and not all leaders are administrators. Leadership is something bestowed upon someone by the viewpoint of others through how they see your example. 

I was taught this lesson in high school.

I shared the following story in my book, “Because of a Teacher,” and have been thinking about it a lot lately.



“Coach Hobbs came to my high school as a new teacher when I was a senior. He may have had only one or two years of teaching under his belt at the time, but I’m inspired to this day by the things I learned from him.

I was a cocky football player who felt my four years of playing on the team entitled me to the captain position. And because he was a new coach at our school, I had no issue telling him that was what should happen. He smiled and said, “You think so?”

I did, and I told him as much. He said he looked forward to me proving it, which, to be honest, I thought was ridiculous. I had spent four years on the team, and he had been there for twenty-four hours; I was not the one who needed to prove anything. Still, I took his words to heart and worked extremely hard in the first couple of weeks of practice.

When the day came for Coach Hobbs to name captains, he listed the first four with no mention of my name. He then said, “Oh, by the way, we have one more captain.” And he said my name.

I was grateful and relieved. He pulled me aside after practice and said, “You earned the opportunity to become a captain because of your leadership in practice, not because you have been here for four years. Don’t ever think in your lifetime that you shouldn’t have to earn respect from others and that leadership is something you’re entitled to.”

I listened, and if I am being honest, it went in one ear and out the other at the time. I was just relieved to be named captain. But as I grew older and had different opportunities and disappointments, I remembered the words of Coach Hobbs. They inspire me to this day.

Sometimes, our best lessons are taught in the present but only embraced in the future.



A couple of extra insights I want to share about this story.


  1. I was literally the first student Coach Hobbs met at this school as a very new teacher. I often cringe at the idea of what he thought about me and the profession as he entered that day, and I am forever grateful that he gave me another chance to make a first impression. It is also a reminder that even in the beginning of your career, you can say something that sticks with a student for the rest of their lives. I vividly remember this moment that happened over 30 years ago, when I am now double the age Coach Hobbs was at the same time (I hated writing that sentence!).

  2. Time spent doing something does not entitle you or me to any position. Just because I played football for four years, didn’t make me entitled to being a leader. Of course, experience matters but in terms of leadership, it only matters if you use that experience to help others. Whether you are in your first year of education, middle, or last, you can help others move forward. It might be harder at the beginning, but it is still possible.

  3. I never understood the impact of Coach Hobbs’ words until I became an administrator. When I share this story now, it is a reminder of the following:




The best lessons we learn in school aren’t always understood at the time.

Still, teach the lesson.

Scroll to Top

Changing the Trajectories of Those We Serve​

Join over 40,000 Educators who already get the Newsletter