Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Teacher And The Shaq

I've gotta like a multi-millionaire basketball star who doesn't forget the grade-school teacher who made a difference in his life:
Annette Swann thought the not-so-little fourth grader needed more sustenance than the school lunch could provide, so she slipped the growing boy half her meal each day.

Shaquille O’Neal never forgot his teacher’s kindness.

Swann and her prized former pupil were reunited over the weekend, when she saw the only three-time NBA champion to come through her Fort Stewart, Ga., classroom play in person for the first time. Swann and her daughter had eighth-row seats — courtesy of Shaq — for Miami’s 93-84 loss to Orlando on Sunday.

“He’s still just Shaq to me,” the 76-year-old Swann said after the game, as she wore a replica O’Neal jersey and held a bouquet of flowers — also gifts from the Heat center. “It doesn’t matter what he has or what he does.”

The trip was supposed to be a gift from Swann’s daughter, Amy, who simply wanted to cheer her mother up from a recent rough patch. In recent years, Swann spent 15 days in a hospital with pneumonia, then learned her lifelong home will soon be torn down in a road-widening project, her daughter said.

But for one night, all the problems were forgotten.

“Because of his size, the other teachers tended to blame him for any mischief that occurred in his vicinity,” Swann’s daughter told The Augusta Chronicle — which forwarded the family’s story to the Heat media relations department. “Well, Mama wasn’t having any of that. She was his champion.”

Coincidentally, O’Neal told a group of students last week at a Heat reading event that Swann was his favorite teacher, even before he knew she was making a trip to South Florida.

When O’Neal heard Swann was coming to Miami, he also arranged hotel accommodations for the family, gave her an autographed game sneaker — big enough to become Swann’s new desk, her daughter joked — and made sure he thanked her for the help and guidance she gave him a quarter-century ago.

“I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent, class clown,” O’Neal said. “And she would just say, ’Shaquille, that’s not nice.’ She was great to me.”
We touch the lives of our students in so many unexpected ways each and every single day that we're in the classroom. It really is a kind of sacred trust.

Food for thought.
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