This word I know very well for I have lived it and for the better part of my life I have both been annoyed by it and enjoyed its benefits. 

Living in someone else’s shadow can be both a blessing and a curse. I should know, for I have lived in my older brother’s shadow my entire life and believe me, they are some big shoes to fill. 

Growing up, it was a nice shield to have, this protection from all ill will just by the reputation already built by my brother before me. This helped a lot in school all the way through college and even at work today. Teachers and professors saw the last name – not so common – and right away their eyes lit up. Excitement in their voice, they would ask, “Are you related?” The emphatic “yes” always led to a waterfall of praise for my older brother and certainty that I would live up to the reputation established.

The only exception to this was fourth grade when I managed to land in the classroom of teacher who very much ran a tight ship – in fact, his class was built on a system of military ranks assigned to each student. He motivated us to succeed by giving us promotions and demotions based on merit. 

This was the first time my last name was butchered unintentionally and I had to work myself to establish an identity on my own without reference to my brother who my teacher had never met. This was a challenge, and I faced it head-on. In the span of a school year, I gave it all I had – my two-hundred and ten percent as my teacher had taught us. 

There were no homework-free days. For that entire year, I worked like a dog. If my teacher said jump, I would ask how high. I was determined to get straight A’s and this U.S. Army sergeant wasn’t going to stop me, nothing could stop me. The sleepless nights prepped me for high school and college, and because of him junior high was a breeze. 

This fourth grade teacher, you see, did his own homework every night – he would go to the junior highs and high schools and ask the teachers what they looked for in good students, what skills were critical for success, and what areas of knowledge were tested on. He would then incorporate this information into his fourth grade curriculum and the way he conducted his classroom.

This man was a genius and no matter how much we hated the academic torture we endured, all of us missed him after fourth grade was said and done. We missed the discipline, the respect we earned, the pat on the back that meant so much coming from such a tough teacher. He made an impact on us that none of us will ever forget. To this day, I give my two-hundred and ten percent in everything I do especially at work. The work ethic this man ingrained in us will stick with us forever.

 I am so blessed to have stepped out of that shadow and grown into my own self at that age, to know that it wasn’t just my relation to my brother that got me by, but to reinforce the fact that I was worthy of my own praise. This motivated me even more to succeed and this success meant something deeper.

I am truly indebted to this fourth grade teacher, Mr. Bales. Wherever you are, I hope you know how positively you impacted the lives of your students. Thank you for everything!

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