We often say, “Use the gifts you were given.” This month I’m challenging you to also use the gifts you were taught. May is Teacher Appreciation Month. Recently I realized how many of the values that define my work at Goodwill were introduced to me by some special educators who’ve been a part of my story.

I’m a proud graduate of Newton-Conover High School and Appalachian State University. The core lessons from my adolescent years have stuck with me. They’ve made me a better leader within my organization, helping me do my job to the best of my ability.

When I think about how I serve and lead others at work and in the community, I remember these important lessons:

Delona Balis, my mom, is a lifelong educator. She instilled in me the mindset to never give up and always work hard. She also taught me that life is too short not to give it your all. I use that advice daily in my personal and professional life.

One day in second grade, I made the mistake of telling Carrie Jean Hood that I was bored. She told me that, as many books as there are in the world, I should never be bored. I owe my strong love for reading to her.

I always left Diane Howard’s classroom feeling better than when I came in. I hope I offer that same gift to my team and co-workers when they come see or talk to me.

Erica Mayer reminded me to slow down instead of rushing to turn in my work. Even if I’m close to a deadline, I remember to slow down – quality work is better than submitting something sloppy just because I’m in a hurry.

Skye Templeton, my seventh grade Social Studies teacher, told me to work hard and get a good job so I could travel the world. I remind my team that the sky’s the limit, so set a dream and chase after it.

Elizabeth Gargis, my English teacher, was the coolest teacher and the queen of grammar. I still use the tricks and tips she gave me back in high school. Thanks to her, I’m a stickler for making sure that everything I write is grammatically correct.

Brenda Smith gave me a love for writing. She taught me that, with words on paper, options are limitless.  I practice that “outside of the box” thinking every day at work. I’m grateful to work for an organization that encourages flexibility and creativity.

Shane Whitener, my math teacher, taught me to always check my numbers twice (if not more) because and accuracy is key. I deal with numbers, money and budgets on a daily basis and always remember to check my work… and then check it again.

Carlos Arias, my high school soccer coach, taught me that practice makes perfect – you don’t get good at something overnight. Although I’m not on a field anymore, this lesson still applies in my professional field.

Tim Adams: I’ll be honest, I don’t remember anything about physics, but I do remember the life lessons. As he wrote in my senior yearbook, be humble, work hard and don’t forget where you came from.

My cheerleading coach Kara Osborne taught us to cheer people on no matter who’s winning or losing. At work, I firmly believe that everyone should be encouraged, celebrated and cheered on because she instilled that in me so long ago.

Dr. Laura Brittain, my favorite professor at Appalachian State University, taught me in Media Graphics how to be creative without being tacky. In graphic design, a little pop of color here or a creative line there can make you stand out above the rest. Taking chances can make you stand out in life, too.

Lastly, Coach Steve Lytton was the one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. He told our class once, “You have the choice to be kind – no matter the circumstance.” I never forgot that, and it’s a defining philosophy of my leadership style.

Now that you’ve read my list of how educators impacted me, try making your own list. It will probably be an eye-opener to see how your past teachers influenced the kind of employee – and person – you are today. I encourage you to reach out to a former teacher and thank them for being part of your story along the way.


Sharine Sample is the Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. Learn more about Goodwill’s employment services here

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