Best-Selling Author Paul Tough Offers Clues About How Children Succeed

book-children-succeedAs professional educators, teachers often seek to understand why some students excel in class while others do not. In his 2012 New York Times bestseller How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough offers valuable insights for why this may be so.

Tough makes a convincing case that it’s not test scores or IQ that makes the difference for who will succeed in the classroom and who will not. He argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character—skills such as curiosity, perseverance, optimism, self-control, and resilience. And these are skills that can be taught.

The volume offers an engaging look at why some students can triumph over their obstacles and others can’t. Tough also provides interesting insights about how to help students who have grown up in poverty. The author’s claims are not just suppositions. He cites several recent studies in brain research, and he combines the findings of these studies with his own first-hand observations on the front lines in school reform. This thought-provoking book makes fascinating reading.

Pro Wrestler and Physical Education Teacher Angelo Poffo

poffo_angelo1There are many talented educators who have earned accolades in fields other than education. This is the case with Angelo Poffo, a physical education teacher from Chicago, Illinois, who had already established a reputation as a professional wrestler.

Angelo was born April 10, 1925, in Downers Grove, Illinois, the son of Italian immigrants. When he first started school, Angelo spoke no English. “I remember, my first day, it got to be around noon, and I didn’t know what was going on, so I went home,” he once said. “That didn’t go over real well.” At school, young Angelo got tough in a hurry, learning to defend himself from kids who picked on him. But his immigrant parents were strict and overprotective. They insisted that he stay at home to study and do chores, and forbade him from working out in the high school gym or playing sports.

After his high school graduation, Angelo enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago. As a young man, he thought that baseball was going to be his ticket to success. He earned a spot on the university baseball team as a catcher. “My catching was good and everything, but my hitting was bad. So I had to give it up,” recalled Angelo. At DePaul, Angelo studied physical education and played competitive chess. Before being hit by a baseball and getting plate-shy, he played ball with George Mikan, who would later become the first big NBA star. DePaul is also where Angelo met his wife, Judy Sverdlin. The pair married on June 6, 1949, and had two sons, Randy and Lanny. Both of Angelo’s sons also became professional wrestlers.

During World War II, Angelo served his country in the US Navy. The first time he saw the weight room, he remembered, he felt like a kid again. “I thought I was in heaven,” he once said. As a 24-year-old pharmacist mate, his unit was stationed at the Naval Destroyer Base in San Diego. Angelo hit the gym for hours on end, sculpting his 6-foot, 200-pound physique. On July 4, 1945, the young sailor set a world record of 6,033 sit-ups in four hours, ten minutes. “Somebody did about 5,000 and his abdominal aorta broke and he died. So I did 6,000 and I was so happy that I was still alive, I did 33 more sit-ups, one for each year of Jesus Christ’s life,”Angelo once recalled. He became an instant celebrity on the base, and word soon spread beyond the Navy. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not showcased his achievement in their newspaper strip and presented him with a gold belt emblazoned with his record.

After his discharge from the Navy, Angelo launched a 35-year career as a professional wrestler. He was strong and determined, and it turned out he was a natural. First came billings at small events and carnivals. During the 1950’s, his fights were televised on the DuMont network, but much of his time was spent on dreary long-distance drives. On one trip, he drove former boxing champ Joe Louis, who had become a wrestling referee, to a match in Minnesota. They stopped at a restaurant, but Louis was refused service because he was black. Angelo brought dinner back to the car so Louis could eat. But as a pro wrestler, Angelo’s crowning achievement came December 27, 1958, when he dethroned Wilbur Snyder for the U.S. TV Title in Cincinnati.

When Angelo decided to retire from professional wrestling, he accepted a position as a physical education teacher and wrestling coach in Chicago.  “I was just getting older,” he admitted. “I saved all my money and I was happy with the money I got,” he recalled. “Then I started teaching school in Chicago, physical education.”

In 1995, Angelo Poffo was inducted into the World Championship Wrestling Hall of Fame. On March 4, 2010, this dedicated educator, talented athlete, and US veteran passed away at the age of 84.

Farmers Insurance 2015 Rose Parade Float “Thanks a Million Teachers”

<> on January 1, 2015 in Pasadena, California.Like millions of people around the globe, I enjoy watching the annual Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1 every year. This year I was particularly inspired by one special float in the parade, the Dream Big: World of Possibility, sponsored by Farmers Insurance. The purpose of this float was to honor teachers from all over the country who, on a daily basis, inspire endless dreams and possibilities within their students. Created by Phoenix Decorating, the float won the Tournament Special: Exceptional Merit in Multiple Classifications Award.

Aboard the float were five winners of the Thank a Million Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge sponsored by Farmers Insurance. In addition, riding the float was actor Jack Black, accompanied by his longtime mentor and former teacher, Debbie Devine, of the 24th Street Theatre. “My middle school teacher, Debbie Devine, had a profound impact on my life that I could never forget to this day,” Black said. “I walked into her classroom and was immediately transported into a world where learning was celebrated and it became clear that the world really was (and still is) my oyster. I am thrilled to be here with Farmers to celebrate Debbie and other teachers who inspire kids, showing them that there really are no limits on the possibilities around us.”

In early 2014, Farmers launched the Thank A Million Teachers program, inviting America to say thank you to teachers across the country for their tireless work and dedication in the classroom. In return, Farmers committed up to $1 million in funding for educators in 2014. Black helped Farmers launch the program by nominating his teacher, Debbie Devine, and sharing the profound impact she made on his life. He credits her influence for ultimately shaping who he is today.

“To date we’ve given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money to help better classrooms across the country,” said Erin Freeman, Chief Communications Officer for Farmers Insurance. “Farmers is a company that believes in smart – but more importantly, we believe that teachers have the power and ability to transform the learning experience by showing their students the world of possibilities that exist around them, and we are thrilled to celebrate teachers for that reason.”

For more about this program, click on this link: Thank a Million Teachers.