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Sunday, November 13, 2011

An excerpt from
Heart of a Teacher
by Paula Fox 

He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance, he had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving. "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I looked at Mark and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!" It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it. I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."

At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it, Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instruction in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third. One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend." That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much." No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip, the weather, my experiences in general. There was a lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?" My father cleared his throat as he usually did before saying something important.

"The Eklunds called last night," he began. "Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is." Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, "Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me." The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it." Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it." Mark's classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists." That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Best Way Out is Always Through

An excerpt from
The Best Way Out is Always Through
by BJ Gallagher 

Mary Kay Ash banged her head on the corporate glass ceiling one too many times. Working for several direct sales companies from the 1930's until the early 1960's, she achieved considerable success. She climbed the corporate ladder to become the sole woman on the board of directors of the World Gift Company — quite an accomplishment for a woman in the 1950's.

But life wasn't rosy at the top. Even though Mary Kay had the title and the track record, she was not taken seriously by her male peers. In board meetings, her opinions and suggestions were ignored, dismissed, or even ridiculed. Male board members minced no words in their judgment - pronouncing her guilty of "thinking like a woman."

Since the sales force was almost entirely female, Mary Kay thought that thinking like a woman was an asset. But her fellow board members disagreed. Finally, in frustration, she retired in 1963, intending to write a book to assist women in the male-dominated business.

Sitting at her kitchen table, she made two lists: one list was all the good things she had seen in the companies where she'd worked, and the other list was all the things she thought could be improved. As she re-read her lists, she realized that what she had in front of her was a marketing plan for her ideal company. In just four weeks, her "book" had become a business plan, and her retirement was over.

Both her accountant and her attorney did their best to discourage her, warning that she would be throwing her money away on this venture. But Mary Kay had heard enough male nay-saying in her corporate years — she ignored her advisors.

Her husband, unlike her accountant and attorney, was very supportive. With his help, Mary Kay developed cosmetic products, designed packaging, wrote promotional materials and recruited and trained her female sales force.

Then the unthinkable happened; her husband of twenty-one years died of a heart attack. Another woman might have dropped her plans, or at least delayed them, but Mary Kay was a strong Texas woman. She stayed on track with the help of her twenty-year-old son, Richard Rogers, and rolled out her new business in September of 1963.

Beginning with a storefront in Dallas and an investment of $5,000, Mary Kay Cosmetics earned close to $200,000 in its first year — quadrupling that amount in its second year. When Mary Kay took her company public in 1968, sales had climbed to more than $10 million.

Mary Kay's unusual corporate motto, "God first, family second, career third," was unconventional, to say the least. But she understood the need for women to have balance in their lives, and she was committed to providing unlimited opportunity for women's financial AND personal success.

Mary Kay authored three books, all of which became best-sellers. Her business model is taught at the Harvard Business School. She received many honors, including the Horatio Alger Award. Fortune magazine has named Mary Kay Cosmetics as one of the Ten Best Companies for Women, as well as one of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.

At the time of her death in 2001, Mary Kay Cosmetics had 800,000 independent beauty consultants in 37 countries, with total annual sales of over two billion dollars. Never underestimate the power of a woman with a mission!