The Lesson

During my time in student loan collections one of the most difficult challenges I faced was collecting from teachers. I’ve always had great respect for teachers and the important job that they do. Unfortunately, being a teacher doesn’t always pay the bills, especially the student loan bill from a private college.

I find it rather sad that teachers have one of the most important jobs (to educate our future leaders), yet are sometimes poorly paid and underappreciated. I have several friends who are in the teaching profession, and I’ve heard the horror stories of unruly kids, demanding parents, and skimpy budgets. Yet, they stick with it, even going so far as to buy classroom supplies out of their own budget in order to make the learning experience what it needs to be.

In the movie the Freedom Writers, Hillary Swank plays the role of Erin Gruwell, a new teacher who has been given the challenge of teaching a group of “at-risk” high school students at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. The movie chronicles Gruwell’s determination as she works to make a positive impact in the lives of her students – a group of students that many people have already given up on.

From the beginning, Gruwell is met head on with opposition, not only from the students, but from department head and colleagues. Yet, Gruwell is determined to make a difference. Slowly, but surely, she begins to win the students over by adapting her teaching style and curriculum to encourage the them to rethink their beliefs. Gruwell takes on not one, but two-part time jobs, in order to provide additional resources and experiences for the class.

As sophomores, the class reads The Diary of Anne Frank and Gruwell challenges her students to keep a diary of their personal experiences, which she later compiles into The Freedom Writers Diary.

The movie isn’t just an imaginary tale either. It’s based on real life events. In fact, The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to see the movie, I highly recommend it. You can view the trailer here:

As a result of Gruwell’s efforts, lives were changed, a book was published, a movie hit the big screen, and a foundation was established.

American journalist Henry Adams once remarked that, “A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops.”

Gruwell is a remarkable example of just how true Adam’s words are.

How many of us have been fortunate to have teachers like Gruwell? Teachers who refuse to throw in the towel? Teachers who open our eyes to the world of possibilities? Teachers who encourage us when the going gets tough? Teachers who help us explore and strengthen our unique abilities?

I’ve had some great teachers over the years. And I’m not talking solely about high school or college educators either. There have been many people who have helped to shape my knowledge, skills, and abilities for the better. This includes supervisors, managers, trainers, colleagues, mentors, and the like.

The Challenge

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week and Tuesday, May 3rd is National Teacher Day.

Your challenge this week is to take time to show appreciation for a teacher in your life. Maybe it is the high school teacher who encouraged you through those awkward teenage years, maybe it is your child’s current teacher, maybe it is your boss or corporate trainer.

There are many ways to show your appreciation, but one of the most classic ways to do so is with a hand written thank-you note.

Your words of appreciation may come at just the right time.

The Reflection

Of all the educators that have impacted your life and/or career, who has had the biggest impact and why?

You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Gary Jensen
Editor | collector mentor

To download companion worksheets to use with The collector mentor Challenge™, please visit

About collector mentor
Published bimonthly, collector mentor is a quick-read publication dedicated entirely to delivering articles and practical advice that teaches credit and collection professionals how to increase collection results, enhance productivity, improve teamwork, and become better stewards of the industry.

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