I met that teacher back in February 2017. I was sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Freeport when I noticed a woman sniffling nearby, unsuccessfully attempting to hold back tears. I couldn’t help but want to help, so I began to talk to her to see if there was anything I could do. Her emotions and anxieties all came flooding out. In a quivering voice, she said that she was going to visit a family member who was very sick, but that she could barely afford the plane ticket she just paid for. Not only that, but also she really couldn’t afford to take time off work, and she was terrified that she might even lose her job because of having this family emergency.

She was in some serious financial trouble…I wondered what kind of a job she had that made all of this so financially difficult, so I asked her what she did for work. Her answer was she was a teacher…Frankly, I was stunned and did not know what to say. My first thought was, why is it that teachers have it so hard financially? I sat there contemplating the average teacher’s plight, and this feeling of both compassion mixed with some outrage started to overcome me.

Then I thought about that one teacher who made a huge difference in my life, my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Pace. You see, up until the 6th-grade, I looked at school as my own personal playground where it was about making friends, making them laugh, talking more than listening, and getting by with the least amount of effort possible. I was lazy, always looked for a way to beat the system, and usually got my way. Some teachers tried to break me of my bad habits, but none of them were successful…but when my family moved to a “nicer” part of town when I was in the 6th grade, things were different. Mr. Pace was my new 6th-grade teacher. And he wasn’t going to let me have my way anymore.

Homework assignments. He did not take “no” or “I can’t do it” for an answer. He wouldn’t let me make excuses for not studying. And when I tried to outsmart him, he would outsmart me! I could not get away with anything! And he held me accountable for everything. He gave me the hard cold facts that I was going to have to work harder than any other student if I was going to graduate the 6th grade. He gave me the hardest time of any teacher I ever had…

After battling Mr. Pace in what felt like an actual personal war, I finally gave in. I realized that it would be easier to just do the darn homework than to fight this new, more-determined-than-I teacher!

So, I studied. Mr. Pace kept reminding me that I was way behind and that I had to catch up. So I studied harder. I did my best to catch up, but to the principal and other school staff, it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. They were going to hold me back anyway, despite my new-found determination to do well. All my extra effort was for nothing! But who stood up for me? Mr. Pace…He fought for me to not be held back, and he won, we won. We both won. I am sure that if it weren’t for the lessons learned from Mr. Pace and so many others that went out of their way to help, I wouldn’t have founded three successful businesses by now. He taught me the value of working hard and never giving up—both indispensable qualities for an entrepreneur like myself.

Sitting there in my airport seat, I suddenly realized that I was lost in the memory of Mr. Pace and that my new teacher friend was waiting for me to respond. To break the silence, I thanked her for what she does and mentioned I had a teacher who really helped me and who made a huge difference in my life.