Friday, September 13, 2013

What Inspires Me? (and what doesn't)

Post by Rodger Wilming:  Rodger is in his 14th year as a Language Arts teacher at Bettendorf High School and currently teaches Literature and Creative Writing.

I’m not sure anyone will care what inspires a Literature and Creative Writing instructor in an out of the way place like Bettendorf, Iowa, but I've never worried too much about what others think of me. I've also never contributed to a blog before today. I've had some experience though. I've restored antique toys, furniture, musical instruments and even automobiles. I've driven the big brown truck that brings packages to your home and place of business. I've even been to college… a Big Ten school at that.

Despite all of that experience I was still surprised when I read that the Los Angeles Unified School District had just spent one billion dollars on iPads for its students. One Billion… with a “B”. That’s a lot of dollars. A billion dollars could be downright awe inspiring if I were inspired by such things… but I’m not. I’m inspired by people as a rule. Take Mark Schuster, one of my former instructors from the University of Iowa, for example. Mark was inspiring. He even held a black belt in Karate. He knew a lot about feelings and how to treat his fellow man, mostly because he said he’d been relentlessly bullied early on as a boy in school. He told me something I’ll never forget. Mark said, “Your students won’t always remember what you've taught them, but they’ll always remember how you've treated them.” No truer words were ever spoken.

One other man greatly inspired me as a new teacher as well.  The Reverend James Campbell, or “Slick” as most of us called him, gave me a bit of advice I will never forget. I was early in my teaching career when I told Slick about a handful of students who were making my life fairly miserable. One lad even lit the fringe of his blue jeans on fire in my class in a desperate, albeit creative, attention-seeking stunt. Slick listened patiently as I described several of these troubled and troubling kids, never once interrupting me. Then he told me, “You know, Rod, when you look into the faces of those kids you’re looking into the face of God.” Now, I’m not what you’d call a religious man by most measures, but I've never looked at a student in any other way from that day to this. Some days that’s more difficult to do than others.  

I’d like to thank Mark Schuster and Slick Campbell for the pearls of wisdom they imparted upon me. If I were Bill Gates I’d give each of them one billion dollars to improve the lives of students in any way they see fit. I’m not sure how they’d spend all of those dead presidents, but I’m pretty sure I know how they wouldn't.


  1. Rodger,

    You are absolutely right. Often times students won't remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel. You are a true testament to that as I have witnessed you make a significant impact on hundreds if not thousands of kids during our time together. You are an inspiration to many my friend! Proud to call you a fellow Bulldog! - jimmy

  2. Very inspiring Rodger. I especially love the quote. As educators we build relationships with students to provide them experiences and develop skills so that they can figure out the answer to that quote. What will be their impact? You have reached so many students not just through your guitar or what you teach but how you relate to each and every student. Thanks for all that you do to impact our students!

  3. Rodger,

    Great post and great message! You are a true inspiration in and out of the classroom. Even though you have been referred to as Mr. Wikan every now and then, you seem to take the punches in stride and form wonderful positive relationships with all of your students. You are a true asset to the Bettendorf Community. Your quotes are right on and your focus as an educator is all about the student(s). Kudos to you my friend!

    ~ Colin

  4. Rodger,

    OK, I am now pondering the "why" was I born piece ... trust that someone bigger than I knows and I am discovering each day! Thanks for sharing!


  5. Thank you for your words Rodger. Mark Schuster, I can truly relate too, and also his statement, “Your students won’t always remember what you've taught them, but they’ll always remember how you've treated them”. I can still remember those few teachers in my high school and college years that I will always remember just by the way they treated me. Those are the teachers that will live on forever in our day to day lives.

    - Christina Linville

  6. Coming from someone who deals daily with clever attention-seeking stunts and often times, troubled youth, your words really hit home. We are never too old to learn from words of wisdom such as you've provided. I will certainly share this with staff at Edison. Thank you for all that you do.


  7. I really enjoyed your post, Roger. It is clear that the inspiration you received from those mentors is benefitting your students now. Keep being the you that your students connect with so well! ~Amy