A life well lived affects so many, but few of us ever get the opportunity to see the extent of our impact on the world around us. That’s one of the blessings of the teaching profession: Former students return for visits and share the ways in which we’ve helped them. I rarely get a chance to see one of my favorite teachers these days, so I’m hoping these words find their way to his doorstep and serve as that long-delayed visit.
There’s a saying that regret for things we’ve done in the past can lessen over time, but regret for things we never did can haunt us forever. One regret I’ve harbored for too long was my inability to formally express my gratitude for a teacher who did more for me than he’ll ever know. Luckily, almost 20 years into my own teaching career, I’ve learned it’s never too late address those regrets.
It’s not unusual in the animal kingdom for some to adopt the young of other species. Stories abound of cats nursing baby squirrels as part of their own litter or dogs watching over orphaned birds until they could take flight. Me? I was one of scores of Fairfield County kids unofficially adopted by George Tatterosian.
Mr. Tatterosian, or “The Tat,” as he was known, enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a physical education teacher and award-winning coach for Trumbull Public Schools. However, I took a class he taught that wasn’t listed on the high school directory. This particular classroom was located on the beaches of Fairfield, where George served 38 years as waterfront director.
George assembled each season’s lifeguard staff from Fairfield County’s high school and college students, a notoriously unreliable demographic considering it was the first job for many of us. George was constantly looking to cover shifts for those who took last-minute vacations or unexpected internships. His position required that he wear many hats: supervisor, trainer, coach and Father Confessor to young adults living through a tumultuous adolescence. He needed to balance a budget while keeping his lifeguards current on the latest lifesaving techniques, coordinating rescue efforts with the same ease with which he’d calm a worried parent until a lost child was found.
Like most great teachers, George truly cared for every person in his charge. He taught his most important lessons through daily modeling, always serious about his job without taking himself too seriously. I learned a lot about how to deal with people while learning at his feet in a way this son never could with his father. With George, I was freed from the weight of rocky history or unmet expectations. He was someone to look up to: a man of character, industry and honor.
I learned how to tell a story while listening to his, acquiring valuable lessons about marriage and raising children along the way. I discovered as much about repairing leaky rowboats and broken radios as I did about water rescues and CPR. Most importantly, I developed a genuine respect for the teaching profession that will last me the rest of my life. The butterfly effect of those summers on the beach is that I never miss an opportunity to share with my own students lessons that go beyond the prescribed curriculum.
If what we teach lives on in every person that student contacts, then George Tatterosian continues to teach new generations well into his retirement. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so on behalf of all the lifeguards he taught in that accidental classroom for so many years, thank you.
Here’s hoping George’s butterfly effect will lead some of you to reach out to that person who deserves your delayed thanks. The world is full of classrooms without walls and teachers without lesson plans. It might be time to leave some apples on their desks.