In an article in the LA Times this weekend, Sam Calavitta was celebrated as an extraordinary high school math teacher. The author wrote “think drill sergeant and trusted advisor” in his description of Sam. In an earlier post I wrote about the need to set both high standards and be on the side of your people in teaching and leadership. Sometimes it’s hard to visualize what this means in practice, and the article brings the concept to life. It sounds like Sam is a terrific role model for anyone working to make a difference in the classroom — and well beyond it.
Sam sees himself as a math coach. We often think of teaching and coaching as very different activities, but the differences are superficial. I stumbled on to how similar they are when my dream to coach college basketball was derailed by an injury. I thought I left coaching behind when I became a teacher, a painful decision at the time, but I soon realized I was coaching every day in the classroom.
The article ended with a poignant quote by Sam. It speaks to another truth in both teaching and leadership, which is that when it works, it’s not a one-way gift:
If you want to make a difference in a kid’s life, you have to first of all let them know that they make a difference in your life.