RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
NPR marks the days around Thanksgiving as a time naturally to listen. And the day after has become an unofficial holiday started by StoryCorps, it's called the National Day of Listening.
NPR's Mike Pesca, our fearless irrepressible leader in Sunday's sports coverage, sat down to talk with a former teacher named Kevin Sheehan. Sheehan taught high school social studies and coached lacrosse in Oceanside, New York where Mike was in the gifted program at the middle school. And fearless and irrepressible weren't the only ways to describe Mike back in those days.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: I remember you invited me back to talk to some of the students then, and do your remember what your pitch to me was?
KEVIN SHEEHAN: No, I don't recall.
PESCA: Well, you know, you're a kind of successful guy now but back then you were screwed up. It was, like, I was?
SHEEHAN: No, no, no.
PESCA: What was your conception of me back then?
SHEEHAN: Back then, I would say that school was enjoyment for you, and maybe not necessarily the classes. But for a lot of teachers you were problematic, so part of my job was really to keep you from being thrown out of that school. That passion is kind of what drove you in school.
PESCA: Well, you know, and I think in middle school, I always identified you as pretty much the guy who was running all the stuff I liked. After I had my knee injury, I didn't have sports, so, the coaches were good - but that was done, and it all became extracurriculars. So, I always thought - I never questioned it - I always thought you had my back. And, you know, your definition of your commitment to the students went way outside the 45 minutes they were assigned to you a day.
SHEEHAN: And I don't know if I was always loved by everyone on the faculty for that reason because you were pushing the envelope. I remember one night in Katonah, New York you did a skit. You know, now, Katonah, New York was the center of this problem-solving process, this pull torrents for gifted kids. You get a problem set in the future and then you solve it. And then you present that in a humorous skit or an entertaining skit. Well, your skit was the 10 things that we hate about Katonah, New York, like a David Letterman rip-off.
PESCA: That's right - top 10.
PESCA: Definitely anti-Katonah.
SHEEHAN: The guy running that program practically wanted to have you arrested. You know, like, that night, I did have your back. And I do think I've done it most of my life, where I've stood up for kids, even the kids I'm dealing with now. What people tend to do is make up stories about them. I'm, like, they don't really know what's going on in that kid. Well, he's no good. His parents is no good. And this has happened. And I get really angry when people make up stories about a kid they don't really know. Some little story that could explain the complex behaviors that's everybody.
PESCA: So, you know, I haven't seen you in maybe six years and before that I didn't see you 15 years, but I think about you a lot and I think about you and my dad who was a teacher, a middle school teacher. Often, his ex-students tell me that he was the best teacher they ever had. And I want to thank you for - someone has to be the best teacher, but you were as good a best teacher as I can imagine. You really jibed with me and you emphasized the virtues, I think, that I use to this day.
SHEEHAN: And thank you, Mike. You can only imagine, Mike, how it feels to hear something like that. And I also want to thank you for being who you were. You know, because it isn't just that we come in and we have information to impart. Like it's a reciprocal thing. And I still tell Pesca stories. But I tell them to teach. Like, you may not know this, but sometimes your example is really helpful to an alternative-school kid when people are all down on him. And so in that middle school, in those years, it was a really fun place to be, which is what I think schools need to be.
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MARTIN: If you'd like to record a conversation with a loved one, you can go to NationalDayofListening.org - all one word - and upload your story.
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