Inside Out

by Alberta Smith, South Central Regional Chair, Missouri ACDA

smithThe year was 1969. 

A thirteen year old girl and her two youngest siblings came home to an empty house.  This young girl was suddenly without her parents.  Her mother and step-father had run away…run away from home.  

The summer between her eighth and ninth grade years became the pivotal moment upon which her life and future turned.  She would have given up.  She would have been lost.  Her life would likely have become a tragedy…had it not been for the timely and effective intervention of a series of individuals who reached out to her. 

These individuals, first and foremost, loved and accepted her and because of that love and acceptance, challenged her to pursue what she had previously presumed to be an impossible dream.  They believed that she could become remarkable, that she could learn to be an independent and responsible person. They believed she could become someone who could make the same difference in the lives of others that they had made in hers.  They invited her to become a person of internal strength and capability, not merely someone who receives a handout and learns to depend on others to intervene when life trials and tribulations come to call. 

Instead of entitlement, she learned empowerment.  Instead of becoming dependent on others, she became the kind of independent person from whom others can learn the lessons she has learned.  Her successes as a person and as a professional may be primarily attributed to the character traits she developed as a result of the struggles she faced and the guidance she received from key individuals who cared enough to enter into a relationship with her when she needed one the most. 

These characteristics became her inner strength…the core of her character…her true self.  The results have been remarkable.  She became a beloved wife and mother.  She became an accomplished musician.  She became a teacher who daily strives to be a positive influence on the lives of young people. 

The challenges facing young people today are real.  Too many young people live in poverty, in abusive situations, or face parental neglect.  Too many young people are under-educated, suffering from low literacy, and lacking the social and intellectual and spiritual skills necessary to equip them to encounter and overcome life’s obstacles.  To call attention to this situation is to state the obvious. 

Media reporting, educational theorists, political pundits, and social-issue special interest groups have made the plight of young people impossible to ignore.  Therefore, the question is not, “Why isn’t our culture aware of these needs?”  Rather, the question is, “How can we most effectively address these needs, and how can these problems best be remedied?”

One approach conditions young people to look for external interventions to rescue them from unpleasant circumstances.  The other approach is to instill in young people the kind of internal character qualities that will enable them to face life and its challenges independently. The fundamental difference between these two philosophies is clear: the former approach uses intervention to give those who are seen as victims something for nothing, and the latter approach uses intervention as a means for giving individuals the opportunity to become independent and self-reliant

The old adage, despite its clichéd tarnish, is true: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.”

In 1969 a thirteen-year-old girl was deserted and abandoned by the two people in whom she should have been able to place the most trust.  This was a tragedy.  She was a victim…of neglect…of abuse…of loneliness and alienation. 

However, she was also blessed…blessed by a sister who saw her not as a perpetual victim but as a remarkable potential…blessed by a teacher who took the time to give her the opportunity to succeed…as a professional, as a person, and as a positive influence on the lives of others.  She was changed…transformed…from the inside…from the insideout

I know this is true…for I was that thirteen-year-old girl, and I am the woman living out her dream.  

Editor's note: The following report about Alberta Smith appeared in her school district's newspaper recently:

Springfield, MO -Central High School vocal music teacher Alberta Smith is the 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.

Her professional accomplishments, commitment to students and passion for teaching are among the traits that distinguished her from the 42 nominees.

Alberta takes great pride in her career at Springfield Public Schools where she has been employed since 1995. As the choral music director at CHS, she has directed concert choir, chamber choir, women’s choir, men’s choir, Middle Years choir and musical productions that have received numerous recognitions and honors.

“I see myself as a ‘life coach’ that uses music and performance to teach young people life lessons,” Alberta said. “My greatest desire for them is to equip my students to succeed regardless of the professional career they choose.”

A CHS alumna herself, Alberta said her relationship with her high school choir teacher had a profound impact on her life, influencing her to become a teacher.