Mrs. Pierson had this completely ’80’s longish bob hairdo thing going on. This was of course completely appropriate because the scene I am going to describe happened in 1984. She also dressed like a college professor (in my mind) even though she was my 9th grade civics teacher. I wouldn’t say she was overly gregarious, but she always seemed super-smart, confident, and calm. For many reasons, I loved her and that class. In all of my school years, civics was one of the very few classes I felt eager to attend. I never hesitated to raise my hand and answer the questions she would ask.
I loved the subject and I loved seeing her eyes light up in recognition of my eagerness.
Even when Tip, the kid in front of me, would blow spit bubbles randomly in the air, I was always focussed and enjoyed that class. Tip was cool too.
Each year Mrs. Pierson would work with the YMCA to take a delegation to the Tennessee Youth Legislature. The first year Brentwood High School existed was my 9th grade year. That year Mrs. Pierson lead a mighty band of five kids into the Tennessee Youth Legislature. Delegates from high schools all over the state would converge on the state capitol in Nashville, which was about a 15 minute drive from our high school. During that action packed weekend, we would have our mock legislature from Thursday night through Sunday. We had a fun time. We got to sit in the actual legislator’s chairs, used the official voting button thingys, walked loudly through the big loud old-smelling halls, sit in committee rooms, lobby each other, pretend we were super-smart adults doing super-smart things… all of that. It was the only extra curricular activity in High School I thoroughly enjoyed.
Mrs. Pierson always joked that we got more done in the long weekend of our Youth Legislature than the real legislature got done all year. As usual, she was probably right.
The next year was my sophomore year and for some reason I remember that one, and my senior year Youth Legislature excursion, vividly. My senior year, I was on the Youth Governor’s cabinet and was selected to be on the escort committee that walked with the then sitting governor, Lamar Alexander, into the chambers to begin the Youth Legislature. We took around 40 students that year and had the second largest voting block. I felt tall and proud that day.
However, as a sophomore, I was a lot more chaotic and insecure. I remember having to wear my step-father’s sports jacket and some pants that didn’t exactly match. I was mismatched and swimming in his jacket. However, I didn’t notice. I had too much on my mind. I was incredibly excited.
My bill, up for consideration in this youth legislature, was about making computer science classes a prerequisite for high school graduation. It was a very short bill. It was not written in proper “legal” type language. To further handicap it, the idea was literally laughed at by some of my peers. “Computers? Are you serious?…Only scientists need computers, you really need to come up with a different bill.” Another peer said. “You will never get a bunch of students to agree to sign-off on MORE prerequisites for graduation. Not worth the effort…Do something else.”
No. I was not doing something else. Computers were, and still are, an incredible tool to advance education. Plus, it’s 30 years later … my inner 15 year old is delighted that I was right!
I stood in that youth legislature education committee meeting and argued that by the time we got through college a personal home computer will be needed in every household. I also contended that by the time our children were in our exact position (at that time) they would all have their own personal computers. My bill, the little bill that could, barely passed out of committee.
After my bill passed committee, we went to the House floor and were roundly ridiculed and argued against. We lost the vote. I was devastated. My face looked as badly as I was dressed, long and deflated. After the humbling defeat, I shuffled off the floor.
That day, my Mom picked me up on the designated street corner near the Capitol. I was sad, in my mismatched clothes with the billowing sports jacket. Seriously, it was windy and it was billowing. I was holding the binder of that year’s bills in my right hand, my thumb parting the yellow pages at my badly written bill. I liked to randomly look and take comfort in knowing it was a good bill even if all those meanies from Brentwood Academy (a rival high school) didn’t agree.
I wanted to tell my mom that I was disappointed that my bill didn’t pass. I wanted to explain that my arguments were sound, and that I genuinely believed that type of law would benefit generations. However, I remained silent as we journeyed home through the tree lined streets of Middle Tennessee. Mostly, not all the time, my parents weren’t ever really interested in what I was concerned with. My Mom was upset about something else. So I stayed quiet staring out the window.
The one thing that kept me from losing heart, and giving up, in the car that day was Mrs. Pierson. As the car radio broadcast Cyndi Lauper and other 80’s favorites, I remembered Mrs. Pierson’s encouragement as we prepared our bills beforehand. “Randy, this is such a forward thinking bill. Ideas like this could have a real positive impact on the future. I think you are truly onto something here.” She even knew I was insecure about it being so short. I remember her saying, “Sometimes the most powerful ideas are encapsulated in a few well chosen words.” She of course taught and coached me on making sure certain bases were covered, but Mrs. Pierson validated *me* and my efforts. She helped me embrace a vision and flourish while running with it.
I love my parents of course. Even so, I am grateful that God placed teachers like Mrs. Pierson in my life to affirm and call out innate and specific gifts. She had to know that my youth legislature bill wasn’t that great and probably wouldn’t pass. Yet, instead of shooting me down with discouragement, she looked for innate good, affirmed its existence, and called it forward.
She wasn’t distracted by imperfections and saw the greater benefit. She, as most teachers do, knew that the most important thing wasn’t that I would win the floor debate, but that I operated in my God-given gifts and passion.
Mrs. Pierson’s influence, among the many good teachers of my high school, helped a neurotic and troubled teen experience self-confidence. I was not an awkward afterthought nuisance of a kid to Mrs. Pierson. I was the “forward thinking” kid with a heart for the future. This bolstering of my self-confidence helped prepare me for a life of public speaking, writing, teaching, and Christian leadership.
In the 30 years since my time in her class, I grew to know and embrace that championing my beliefs is part of how God made and gifted me. He placed a yearning within to seek the best for our communities now, and prepare future generations to the best of our ability. God used Mrs. Pierson to be one of my first coaches along these lines.
Now, I am still not good at fashion, but I’d just like to say, Thanks Mrs. Pierson!
Jill Savage and Dr. Kathy Koch share many ideas in their new book that will help you know your children well so you can parent them well. I hope you’ll check out No More Perfect Kids. Although you can buy it now, WAIT and buy the book between March 13-23 from our website (or anywhere else) and you’ll get FREE resources worth more than $100 from Hearts at Home (Jill’s ministry), Celebrate Kids, and Moody Publishers. What a deal! We’ll share details later here at the blog about how to get the resources.