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‘Duty to dream’ and guts to change

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Thomas Bloch quit his job as CEO of tax preparer H&R Block to become an inner-city schoolteacher. Here’s some of what he learned:
  • We owe a debt. And not just to the IRS. From childhood, Bloch figured he’d succeed his dad, the company’s founder, but after more than a decade in the business, he decided to teach. “America imposes a special burden on its citizens,” he says. “We have not only the freedom to dream. We have a duty to dream.”

  • It’s not about us. Bloch arrived in the classroom as something of a celebrity: The children were perplexed about why he’d leave a job that made him rich. He told them that even though they were asking good questions, he wanted to learn about them. And he did.
  • Enthusiasm helps. While he was still learning how to teach, Bloch tried to demonstrate what math could do for his students, showing them how to prepare a simple tax return and how the tax system works.
  • Keep your cool. Nothing quite prepared the businessman raised in suburban Kansas City for urban life’s sharp edges. Bloch lost his temper only once. More often, he remembered what educator Parker Palmer said, “Children may forget what you say but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.”
  • Preaching doesn’t work. “I realized,” Bloch says, “that the best way to teach students to care is not to lecture them about caring.” Instead, he started a program of voluntary community service.
  • Values matter. For his students who couldn’t understand why he had only one car, Bloch moved slowly through a series of conversations about materialism versus happiness. Parents thanked him.
  • Better ways exist. Bloch constantly trolled for new tactics. One was having students lead parent-teacher conferences. Their honest self-assessments surprised and impressed him.
  • Victory will be yours. Bloch won over some children who’d always hated math. Others went on to become teachers themselves.
—Adapted from Stand for the Best, Thomas Bloch, John Wiley & Sons.

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