Sarah, Me, Rachel and Lou in the fall of 2004.
When I was teaching sixth grade at Brown Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts, I was part of a team of four teachers. Sarah taught math, I taught social studies, Rachel taught science, and Lou was the English teacher. Sarah, Rachel, and I became fast friends. All three of us were in our mid-twenties, newly married, and not long out of graduate school. We spent our planning periods in one another’s classrooms strategizing and destressing. We were all dedicated teachers and we enjoyed our jobs.
Lou was didn’t hang out with us. Just a year away from retirement, he was a generation above us and had been teaching public school his entire career. Lou had seen one education reform initiative after another be introduced only to be revised and eventually replaced. Instead of digging into the newest curriculum he stuck to doing things his own way, the old way, which was a way the three of us often deemed out-of-date. His classroom was bare bones, his lessons unchanged.
And yet, every morning at 8:15 when the school doors opened and our 88 11-year-olds came into the building they rushed straight to Lou’s room to hang out. When Lou walked down the halls he was mobbed by kids vying to talk to him. On field trips everyone wanted to be on Lou’s bus and sit with Lou at lunch. He was overwhelmingly popular and definitely the most liked teacher on our team.
One night in December I was out for drinks with a friend from grad school. We were talking about work and I was telling her about my students, about the lessons I was preparing on ancient Egypt, about my friends Rachel and Sarah, and about Lou. “I can’t figure it out,” I said. “Even though we’re the ones working so hard, the kids love Lou. They absolutely love him.”
She turned to me and asked me something I’ll never forget. “Does he love them?” she said.
And of course the answer was yes. Lou loved them. Of all the people Lou could choose to spend time with in the world Lou loved being with 11-year-olds best. And they knew it. His love for them made all the difference.
I think about Lou often now even though I’m doing something very different professionally. When you sell a product, or write a blog, or have a business of any kind you will find yourself interacting with people who consume what you create. They’ll write you emails, leave you comments, ask you questions, and sometimes criticize you. How you respond makes all the difference. Do you appreciate them? Are you dedicated to them?
Businesses that succeed are led by people who, like Lou, love the people the serve.