KEVIN TATE: Inspiring, teaching youngsters a high, noble calling

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The little tin lunch box had a plastic handle and a spring clasp to keep it closed. Inside each day would be a thermos of milk or Gatorade, a sandwich and some chips. On the outside was painted a scene from “Starsky & Hutch,” the two smiling beside their red and white Gran Torino, perchance to spark a small child’s imagination I suppose, but on the inside was what mattered, because what was there reminded me of home.
The only thing I liked about attending pre-school and kindergarten was leaving. I dreaded going in the morning and I gritted my teeth through the time I spent there all day. I didn’t like socializing with the other kids and I don’t remember the teachers being impressed with anything I ever did, not that I did much to impress them. The bulk of our work in those days consisted of using wax crayons to color Energy Ant, the poorly-branded character thought up by the U.S. Dept. of Energy in response to that era’s recession and oil crisis, speaking of unimpressive work.
Coloring was an exercise I immediately recognized as pointless. The outer cover of the book was in color so clearly the press was capable, I remember thinking. If they wanted the inner pages in color, they should have printed them that way. Instead they left the job to a nation of randomly-motivated 4-year-olds, a business model so flawed even a 4-year-old could point it out. While my classmates drew praise and adulation for their studious work, diligently decorating reams of beige paper in green and red and blue, I occupied my time plotting my escape, an exercise I walked through hundreds of times in my mind. Inwardly I pictured myself going over the fence at recess or evading a head count and slipping out a back door, making my way across town toward freedom and home. Outwardly, though, I’m sure I looked like a kid quietly staring slack-jawed out into space, which, of course, was also true.
Seeing my mom’s green Datsun pull up to the curb on Lumpkin Ave. to collect me was always the first highlight of the day. Between drop off and pick up, the lone relief came at lunch time. The sandwich she had made, the chips she had bagged, the drink she had carefully poured reminded me of someone who loved me. The beaming smiles painted on the box’s outside mocked my unhappiness, but inside the hands that worked so hard every day to provide for our family had packed something just for me.
Last week I dropped another little guy off at his kindergarten. With so much of his own mom’s personality and charm, he looks forward every day to seeing his friends in a classroom led by teachers who inspire, teachers who thrive in their calling to shape powerful young minds in small bodies.
That National Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day are adjacent is appropriate, because loving what you do and those for whom you do it is so critical to both. Happy Mother’s Day, to my little boy’s mom and to my own, and thanks to all of you who teach, who motivate, who make the effort to touch young imaginations. In a lunch or in a thoughtful word, in an encouragement or a challenge that helps a child engage, or just in being there, the difference you make can last a lifetime.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.