From sportswriter to teacher and never once looking back


For more than 20 years I was a sportswriter. I covered Major League Baseball, the NFL, track and field, boxing, the NBA, tennis, college sports, and high school sports. Met everyone from Muhammad Ali to Mickey Mantle. Then one night I made a phone call to a friend, Chip Phelps. Told him that I had to do something more worthwhile with my life. He asked me what I was talking about. He said that sportswriting was worthwhile, that I informed people, and did so in an entertaining fashion.

I could see his point, but something was lacking in my life.

That was 1993. It would be another seven years before I’d find my true calling in life: teaching.

Until then I became the managing editor of a Catholic newspaper. I liked that a lot, but still something was tugging at me. That something was a first grader yanking on my coat sleeve during a grammar school Christmas sale in 1999.

“Can you help me find a present for my mommy?” he said.

“Sure, how can I help?”

He led me to a table filled with all sorts of small-item gifts. I didn’t offer any suggestions. I let him select and I reached for the item that he pointed to. Such was the extent of my “help.” He ponied up $5 and bought his mom a pair of stained-glass earrings. He said thanks and walked out of my life.

But that moment resonated with me. I actually had helped a kid other than my sons. It was a nice feeling.

More time passed and I helped out on my older son’s Little League team, a minor role, but that too was satisfying to see youngsters grasp a lesson in hitting or fielding.

“Hey, Joe,” a father said, “ever think of becoming a teacher?”

No way. In fact, I’m surprised that I didn’t go right out and buy this guy a gift certificate good at any hospital for a lobotomy, as satirist Tom Lehrer once said. But his words stuck and as the summer wore on, I began to give the profession serious consideration.

Finally I headed to Barnes and Noble to review its education section. I knew that if I were to become a teacher I had to become certified in English.

As I was thumbing through a book about high school English certification, a young lady from Bishop Ahr High School in Edison, N.J., approached me. She asked if I were considering the teaching profession. I said that I was and she began to tell me about her favorite teachers and what made them effective. As she was leaving, she wished me well and predicted that I’d make a good teacher.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because you took an interest in what I had to say.”

Then she waved goodbye and wished me luck.

I’m a big believer in signs from the universe and too many now had revealed themselves to me. So I purchased a test book as well as a copy of Masterpieces of World Literature to review my background knowledge. Two months later, I took the certification test, passed, and I’ve been teaching ever since.

Teaching is everything that I had hoped it would be. While I may grouse about the over testing of students, there is nothing like getting up in the morning with just one thought: Who can I help today? Then it’s off to school, arrive at 6:20 a.m., and teach at 7:30 a.m.

Classes are fun, informative, and exciting. Students like to be taught and if they see that you sincerely care about them, they will always come through.

Sometimes they even get in touch with you long after you have taught them.

Dave, a former student of mine in 2007, recently contacted me on Facebook and we conversed by phone for more than an hour. He’s only 25, but he is married, has a beautiful six-week-old daughter, a new home, and a career that he loves. I told him that I hadn’t accomplished any of that at his age. Now, as a teacher, you’re never jealous when your student surpasses you. In fact, you are delighted that he or she has found success.

Years ago, an educator named Richard Long hired me and promptly offered sound advice. “When you teach,” he said, “always try to be the best teacher a student ever had.”

I’ve taken that suggestion to heart, and while I’m certain that I’m not everyone’s favorite teacher, Dave was kind enough to tell me that I was his favorite teacher.

Not a bad way to end a long school day.


4 thoughts on “From sportswriter to teacher and never once looking back

  1. As someone going through a career related existential crisis, it’s an inspiration and encouraging to read about someone taking the chance and pursuing the thing they were meant to do…now to find the courage to do the same…


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