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A Father's Day submission
My Very First Teacher
Paratrooper Dad web
Dave Spradley

As a Kershaw County teacher for twenty-seven years, I’m not sure I have ever properly thanked my very first teacher -- my father, Dave Spradley -- or told him how great of an impact he has had on my life and on my career. The most important lessons about literacy and education, I learned from him. Whether it was sitting on the couch, snuggled against him as he read aloud to me, or laughing at the silly poetry he recited, I remember how warm and comfortable being immersed in language and literature felt as a young child. I fell in love with the words, pictures and ideas I found in books. Being read to as a child is one reason why I gather my third graders onto the carpet every single day in my classroom and read aloud to them. When we study poetry, I always include some of my dad’s silly favorites. So much of what I do in the classroom, so much of who I am as a teacher is because of my phenomenal first teacher -- my dad. Here are just a few things he taught me:

Mean what you say.

My first job is not to be your friend.

Anybody can be average. You’re not average.

When I entered USC in 1982, Dad told me that he’d only made two Cs while in college so that was all I was allowed. "Anybody can make a C. Cs are just average. You’re not average," he said. When I made a C during my freshman year, he jokingly warned, "Better be careful or you’ll be paying for your own college!" I took his words to heart and never made that second C. Watching my dad set and achieve lofty goals helped me realize the endless possibilities that lay dormant within myself.

As a teacher, I set goals for myself and work hard every day. I expect the same from my students. I have never looked back on a class full of children and thought, "I should’ve been easier on them!" How can I possibly inspire my students to reach their potential if I encourage them to be simply average? The people who find true happiness in life aren’t those who just "get by," learn how to work the system, or take the easy road. They’re the people who have made contributions, who are proud of what they’ve accomplished, and those who have left the world a better place than they found it.

Be brave. Take risks.

Now that I’m much older and somewhat wiser, I know that my father isn’t really a superhero. But, he sure is as close to one as any parent can ever get. I know that Dad really can’t fly. But, throughout my life, his bravado inspired me to be a risk-taker, to dream big, and to expect success to follow my hard work.

I can only hope to motivate my young students in the classroom the way my father still inspires me. At 72, my dad, Dave Spradley, still works almost every day running the small business he started years ago as his third career. His customers can count on him to show up when he says he’ll be there, charge a fair rate, and do his very best, no matter how small the job.

Now that I’m grown, my father is most definitely my oldest and dearest friend…and certainly the greatest teacher I have ever had.

Like most little girls, I thought my dad was a superhero. He was strong. He was brave. He could fix anything. He could fly! I knew this because I saw him do it! On Saturday mornings, sometimes my mom would take my brother and me to watch Dad jump out of airplanes. He had begun his career in the military as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. He told us stories about "jumping" into the Everglades for survival training, referring to it as one of the best times of his life. What Dad was doing as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne on Saturdays, he called earning extra "jump pay." But, through the eyes of his adoring daughter, each time he parachuted out of a plane, I thought he was proving his superhuman ability. Dad is a "self-made" man, a "pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps" kind of guy. He grew up in Columbia, the youngest son of cotton mill workers and is no stranger to hard work or tough times. After dropping out of Lower Richland High School at 17, Dad enlisted in the Army, beginning an adventure that became his career. He earned his high school diploma and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree while I was in middle school. He retired as an officer and settled down in Camden to begin another career. Dad learned at an early age that education was the way up and out of a trying situation. His education was one way he ensured he would not wind up in the cotton mill himself. Dad said that his first obligation to me while I was growing up was not to be my friend. It was to be my parent. While that may sound a bit harsh, I believe he was exactly right. His job was to prepare me for life in the real world and the real world is tough! Dad’s obligation to me as a parent meant that sometimes he had to make decisions based on my best interests, not on what I wanted. Sometimes I didn’t like him, but I always respected him…and I always knew I was loved. In my classroom, my obligation to my students is not to be their friend. It is to teach them. Sometimes I make decisions that they do not like, but I always have their best interests in mind. Sometimes they may not like me, but my students always know they are loved. I can’t think of a single time when I have caught my father in a lie or heard him promise something he didn’t deliver. He has always been a man of his word. If Dad ever promised my brother and me something, he always followed through -- even if what he’d promised was a well-deserved spanking! As a child, I found comfort in being able to count on him to be consistent. As a teacher, I know my students rely on me to mean what I say and be consistent every day.