There Is No Problem You Can’t Make Worse:

Nine Twenty-First Century Classroom Rules From A Mentor Teacher




Antonio J. Hopson







Copyright © 2019 by Antonio J. Hopson


Published By Wildboy Concepts Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from Antonio J. Hopson. Writers are welcome to quote brief passages in their critical studies as American copyright law dictates.

ISBN 9781688985766

Front Cover Design: Agnew Kyle.

There Is No Problem That You Can’t Make Worse:

Nine Twenty-First Century Classroom Rules From A Mentor Teacher.

1. Nonfiction—Classroom—General Pedagogy. 2. —Contemporary.



Êtes-vous libre?














Wildboy Concepts | Seattle Washington








"You teach best what you most need to learn."

 —Richard David Bach


 "He who opens a school door closes a prison."

—Victor Hugo


 “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism."

—Colleen Wilcox



 "A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."

—Thomas Carruthers



 “Watching and helping others allows me to see where I have been. It helps me to reflect on my past to better design my future."










From The Author


1. Show Empathy/Be Kind and Respectful (p.1)


2. Raise Your Hand/Do Not Interrupt (p.19)


3. Do One Thing at a Time (p.28)


4. Slow Down/ Do it well (p.37)


5. Add Value (p.48)


6. Take Risks/Being Brave Does Not Equal Stupid (p.56)


7. There’s No Problem/Unstructured Problem That You Can’t Make Worse (p.64)


8. You Must Be Invited In (p.82)


9. Make Mistakes/Learn From Your Mistakes (p.87)











                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Antonio is one of the most unique and talented teachers we have at Lakeside School. I have been in and out of classes hundreds of times over the past nearly 20 years and discussed everything from pedagogy and paramecia to prejudice and climate change. Over the years he has been able to positively influence teachers and students in ways that few others can, and I see in these nine rules outlined in this book, the secret to his success: emotion and mutual respect. Use these rules as a guide, or reminders of the vital work that is ahead of us.

          Antonio impresses upon his students the WONDER that is life and our place in the universe. Through dynamic discussions, real-life examples, discoveries, unmatched storytelling, thought-provoking investigations, innovative evaluations, technology, reflection, as well as quizzes and tests that are uniquely engaging —he excites and cajoles and encourages his students to connect with each other personally, respectfully and authentically.

            It is remarkably unusual to find a teacher who is as gifted at working with such a broad range of ages —from preschool to high school. He’s masterful at teaching all types of learners when one-dimensional teaching simply won’t do. Antonio shares his thoughts on how to be kind, robust, gentle, giving, caring, and no-nonsense in a modern classroom. He embraces these nine rules as his calling. Perhaps no one else better exemplifies getting kids so wholly engaged in what they are learning. They hardly realize they are in school because they are captivated by the trust, respect, and questions he incorporates into his challenging and lively classes.

      No matter your subject or your style in the classroom, these nine rules will help you create and cultivate Antonio’s unique way of teaching through music, storytelling, his passion for learning, his love of his sons, his culture as an African American, and his humanity.

       Outside the classroom, he is just as loved and cherished by his colleagues as his students. He mentors all of us in not only what it means to be a Black man growing up with all sorts of trials and tribulations, but he also raises issues and questions that challenge us to think more deeply about our pedagogy, our race, our perceptions, our roles as educators and our need to keep things in perspective.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I hope you enjoy reading this book the way I enjoy working with the author. It’s not every day that you get to laugh, debate, admit mistakes, and think about such important matters in our profession as you do with a colleague like Antonio. He’s the teacher you want on your side, the one who’s willing to give it to you straight, but has the skills and personality to remind you that we’re all vulnerable, complicated humans.

And who better than us to take on this critical work? We are the people who will lead our students into the future, giving them the skills and empathy they require to create a world filled with healthy, ethical spirits. That’s how teaching works —one student at a time.

Scott Jamieson M.Ed.

Lakeside Teacher, April 2019

From The Author


          I hope you have a glass of wine in front of you.

         This is not your typical book on pedagogy. In fact, it is a mish-mash of stories: failures, embarrassments, mistakes…

          I’ve been a mentor-teacher for many years, and my best mentoring comes over a glass of beer or wine at a pub, at the lunch table while laughing my way through a conversation about how awkward/astounding our profession can be. Though I’ve read many books on education, most of them do not have a familiar tone or are so choked full of collegiate word salad that you need to pinch yourself to stay awake. I endeavor not to put you to sleep, but rather, to talk with you the way I’d speak to any of my colleagues –new to the profession or not.

          The following are ethical rules for humans, not just the classroom. I use these rules myself to self-correct when I’m not on point. How can I expect my students to achieve if I am not the best possible teacher I can be? “There is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school,” said Bill Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who work alongside teachers and education leaders to ensure all students have access to a high-quality public education .“If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”

These rules will help YOU, no matter where you teach, be THAT great teacher.

The school I work at is a bit a rogue –which is perfect for me, as we are blessed with people who care about the work we are doing. We experiment. We change. We rearrange, always involved in the iterative process. We played chess via a telegraph machine with the soviets while the rest of America was watching Red Dawn.  I thank my lucky stars for working with such excellent practitioners, but much of our success is credited to an intense appreciation for professional development by our administrators (some of it funded by the Bill and Melinda Foundation.) Lakeside School has sent me to hundreds of conferences or workshops where we’ve tackled everything from systemic racism to bullying; from STEAM to classroom mechanics.

 I am a fortunate teacher, given every opportunity to represent our profession with the tools I need. However, if I boiled every useful workshop down to its essentials, I’d say that every one of them was able to remind us that we are at our best when we teach with humility and compassion.

 I also work within a group of mentor educators whose job it is to induct new teachers into one of the finest schools in the world. This is not hubris. Bill Gates happens to be one of our alums, and so are Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft), Annie Leonard (Executive Director of Greenpeace USA), Freddie Wong (filmmaker, musician), Maria Eitel (first president of the Nike Foundation), Po Bronson (writer), Governor Booth Gardener, and best of all the original television Batman, Adam West. These innovators, and kind humans, all moved through our program, gaining from the willingness to innovate, the exceptional professionalism and the deft touch of the educators I work with.  Sometimes they are new to the profession. Sometimes they have twenty plus years under their belt. Everyone is expected to perform at the highest level. Tibi Seris, Tibi Metis, is our motto, As You Sow, So Shall You Reap.

       In this book, I hope to condense what I’ve learned as a mentor teacher into my style of storytelling and conversation. Ask anyone who’s met me –I’m not the most linear-type of person, but somehow, I found myself the longest-serving mentor in Lakeside’s history. The truth is, with a mission statement like this, it’s easy.


“The mission of Lakeside School is to develop in intellectually capable young people the creative minds, healthy bodies, and ethical spirits needed to contribute wisdom, compassion, and leadership to a global society.

We provide a rigorous and dynamic academic program through which effective educators lead students to take responsibility for learning.

We are committed to sustaining a school in which individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences instruct one another in the meaning and value of community and in the joy and importance of lifelong learning.”


Moreover, I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a school where people feel empowered by our mission statement. No matter where in the hallowed halls of academia they’ve come from, each of them recognizes that being a good human comes first.

However, living up to this every day is tough and I also believe that we are all a mess –Neruda’s kind of a mess, where our human nature and capacity to love is innate but, due to how easily fear or distractions can flood us, we stray from our aspirational and latitudinarian core. What makes it even messier is that we sometimes forget how vulnerable we are —how temporal and emotional: traits not easily assessed on an S.A.T. or A.C.T.

But in the long run, isn’t that precisely what we want our young humans to be?

          Good at being human.

This is why YOU must model these rules as well. People are not perfect —and neither are our students so we must show them the way —including how we pull ourselves out of tailspins.

          The market for educational books is flooded, and this is probably not your first. As most of these ideas are not new, I intend to write a book that can be scanned using examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate the pedagogy of an excellent, modern classroom: some from my own, and some from the classes of colleagues — rules I’ve acquired and refined. I’ve kept the chapters short because you have a lot of work to do! And I will avoid too many citations, footnotes, endnotes, etc., leaving you with stories with which to judge for yourself.

So, here is a non-linear guide to rules/expectations that are essential parts of a dynamic, modern classroom. Though they are listed from one to nine—they can be randomly shaken up and rearranged into whatever order you wish to explore. As a mentor once told me, I invite you to “Begin anywhere, and together we’ll figure out the rest.






The author wishes to thank the following people for their time, expertise and commitment to education: Scott Jameson, Nancy (The Viking) Canino, Matt Huston, Will Hass, Dr. Caryn Abrey, Dr. Snellen and especially Jenny Coe.



Chapter One

Be Kind and Respectful



Cat Problems


            I have a friend named Jimmy. He’s an ex-cop. One of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s from East Saint Louis or some rusty place near that great city, but he never really talked about it unless you bought him a few beers.         Jimmy moved to the Pacific Northwest on a lark—attracted to the green and teal-colored waters and the general goodwill of the people.

            A time or two, we talked about why he left the force.  He’d tell me some of the most disturbing and heartbreaking stories.

            “Man Antonio,” he would say my full Christian name every time he started a serious story. “I just didn’t have the heart to be a cop. It was the toughest job I ever had. You’d see people at their worst—at their very lowest. Sometimes you could help them, but most of the time you were busting up fights and whatnot. I became cynical.” And with a sad expression on his face, Jimmy crystallized the reason he left the force. He was becoming part of the problem. (See rule number eight, “There is no problem that you can’t make worse.”) He stopped seeing people as people and soon fell into thinking of everyone as a suspect –even the old ladies with cat problems.


Believe in Beauty


            When I met Jimmy, I lived along Alki Beach –a quintessential Seattle neighborhood: otters playing in the sand, storing snacks in their armpits, holding hands in the strong current, eating Dungeness crab for breakfast –-no wonder Jimmy landed here.  He was a romantic fool and he believed in the beauty and respect humans are all capable of giving and receiving. Dignity, no matter who you were, or where you came from.  “I quit just in time, Antonio,” he said. “The best thing I ever did for myself.” On his porch, you could sit outside with a beer or two, watching the watery wonderland unfold, mirrored in his steely eyes.  “People are so vulnerable –it only takes a little effort to see it—we’re all afraid of being alone.”

            Eventually, Jimmy left Alki Beach, found a job as a baggage handler and to my knowledge he is happy today –traveling the world with discounted airfare, giving respect, kindness and being vulnerable to strangers in dive bars (which is exactly where I met him). 


Better Than Being Ignored.


            At about this time in my life, I began my career as a science educator and I loved my job. “Don’t let them grow up to be assholes,” he’d told me before he departed. “Tell them to be kind and respectful to one another.”

            I’m paraphrasing that last bit. But the first part is Jimmy’s words, and after he said them, I began to see the inherent beauty he saw in the fear of being vulnerable. I’d see it at bus stops, waiting in traffic, when I traveled overseas, in Lou Reed’s “The Dirty Boulevard”, but I’d especially see it in my classroom. Even the mean kids were vulnerable –in fact, lacking the power of kindness and empathy, they were some of the most lost and lonely children, often becoming more aggressive, standoffish, awkward and without social confidence.


The Demonic Face


            The school I taught at was a K-5 program and I was able to observe the emotional/social and academic growth of our students for many years. It was easy to spot the “mean kids” and I could see how some of the more aggressive ones (without a developed sense of empathy) were not productive in a group and sometimes developed a reputation for being a bully or an outcast by using whatever power they possessed to receive negative attention. Being a bully, by their estimations, was better than being ignored.

            One day, a student (I will call him Ethan) received a little of his own medicine. You see, I was a bit of a bush-doctor then, working at a small private school where the students were mostly little angels. I did not have many supplies in my doctor's bag and I sometimes had to improvise (see rule number seven, Take Risks/Being Brave Does Not Equal Stupid.)  Due to poor performance at his previous school, Ethan transferred to our program midyear and it didn’t take long to figure out that he did not have the tools or the appropriate maturity to work well in a group. He was never physical with his classmates, but when the teacher wasn’t looking he would make the most disgusting faces any chance he’d get.

            “Mr. Hopson, Ethan’s—making faces at me again.”

            At first, it seemed harmless –I mean, how bad could a facial expression be? Of course, the instant I arrived the little devil stopped, so I’d ask his victims to show me the “face” but all they could muster was a constipated frown.

            I moved Ethan to a spot where he could work alone, but I know that’s exactly what he wanted. He was not interested in sharing and conversing, thinking and problem-solving with the group.  Ethan was interested in doodling away the day, biding his time until a teacher came and worked with him one on one.


A Beautiful Mess


It so happened, Ethan was an only child and in this case, I believe his parents did not set enough ground rules at home. Did he have an older sibling to tame him the way that I tamed my younger brothers (ask Jabari, Eli or Patrick about the “The Colonel”) or neighborhood kids to cooperate and socialize with?  Ethan was a mess. Not the kind of beautiful mess that Neruda loved in people, but more of a tangled crab-pot left on a smelly dock kind of a mess.  Without the proper social tools, primarily developed through empathy and often cultivated in the classroom, Ethan learned to actively spoil any social situation in which he felt vulnerable to by making that disgusting, demonic face.


A Power You Can’t Control          


One particular day, I found myself at wit’s end. Ethan was busy spoiling yet another project and the group exploded into unproductive laughter and jeers. I could hear them complaining, but Ethan had disappeared, retreating under the table –invariably waiting for me to give him his own supply of Jello and candy to make a model of a cell alone in the corner of the room. After spying an untied shoelace, I dropped to my knees and crawled under the table.

            And there was the “face”.

            It was the first time I’d seen it myself: the third grade equivalent of “Hey-fuck you buddy! Neener-neener-neerer! Look at me, not giving a shit.  I’m a demonic troll-devil and possess a power you can’t control.”

            Here, quite by accident, without any forethought, I returned the same wicked expression. I don’t know what came over me, but can you imagine this moment? What a pro I was then. On my knees matching every contorted, constipated contraction this child could throw at me.

            At some point, Ethan paused. Perhaps he was resting his frontalis and zygomaticus major —muscles required to make such a demonic face, or maybe he was simply perplexed, surprised by the potency of the bush medicine, but suddenly, he cracked and began to tear up.  And in that very instant, we both became better humans.


            Ethan saw the crack in my polite teacher-mask —the one where we never lose our cool no matter what our students throw at us, and I’d seen the crack in his. 

            I sympathetically brought Ethan his supplies and he completed the project under the table, alone where I allowed him to compose himself. Dignity is important. Our students and our fellow humans must have access to their worthiness and redemption. In pedagogical terms, this is part of the reflection process, and in this book, it is rule number nine:  Make Mistakes/Learn From Your Mistakes.

            Let me take a moment here to say in my defense, I was a young teacher without many tools (and would not suggest using this technique) –but damn, the next day! Wow, what a change, and to my surprise I never saw that face again. Even his parents noticed the change. He stopped hiding under the dinner table. Started wearing clothes to school instead of pajamas.  My colleagues credited me with the growth they saw in the classroom –but during our team meetings, I was reticent to describe my technique.

            I know now  what I did was give Ethan a glimpse of being empathetic, which is defined as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”.   Because of that moment under the table, Ethan was able to see –nay, feel what it was like to be on the other side of that face.  Indeed, humans can only understand other humans if they feel them, right?  Upon reflection of those feelings, we begin to care about each other.  Once Ethan started behaving more humanely, his fellow students then began to acclimate him into their social structure, teaching him the rules of being a functional third-grader in their little part of the world. Now that he had the tools to make allies, Ethan was able to make mistakes on the basketball court, while playing soccer, while pasting sea creatures on to a group project, and not hiding under the table even when times were tough. He learned to laugh and converse and add value.


A Jewish Hippy From New York


            Instead of making faces at a third grader under the table, here is a better way to help your students practice empathy.  Seriously, every teacher needs to work on these, even though they sound cliche and we feel a bit phony saying them to our students. Don’t let this happen to you. Empathy is the single most important thing you can teach your them —no matter the subject.  Say them with confidence and authority. Tell them it’s the most important part of your course/class —and no, there will not be a final grade until they are seventy years old, playing with their grandkids or having dinner with a lifelong friend or sitting with a loved one near the end of their life on earth.  Post them in your room on the walls, on your webpage, on the empty page of an assignment.


●      Say hello before you ask for something.

●      Say please.

●      Say thank you.

●      Apologize if you are wrong about something.

●      Have a good attitude.

●      Ask questions of others.

●      Say excuse me.

●      Look for opportunities to compliment others authentically.

●      Don't be a bigot or a bully.

●      Love is to humans what honey is to bees. It has evolved to hold the hive together so that it may endure, so be kind.

●      Treat others the way you would want to be treated.


Remember, no matter what grade, or where you teach, you must instill these values in your students; from preschool to Ph.D. —you must set them up for the next teacher they meet, no matter how late in the game. Mr. Wang, my teacher at a very tough South Seattle high school summarized it succinctly, “Don’t be a jerk!”  And invariably, when one of us smart asses raised our hands and asked, “What does that mean?” he would point at them and say, “See? Right there. You’re being a jerk!”

Mr. Wang (interestingly a Jewish hippy from New York) held us to his motto every day no matter how tough or gangsta’ or punk rock we thought we were —he called us out, made us practice it and in doing so, made us feel safe enough to try new things without being punished by our peers. He merrily took on this task. He did not give a flying fish about being seen as “cool” in our eyes (he was, but only because he was not afraid to engage and correct us on this level) and now, years later, he’s thought of fondly by the alumni as one of the best teachers we have ever had.


Real-Life And Relevant


Mr. Wang worked on a personal level. He had a dynamic personality, but there are more academic ways of practicing empathy in a classroom.

 An article on building empathy in your classroom, written by Lauren Ayer, M.Ed.,recommends three primary ways to build empathy in the classroom.

1) Use literature

2) Use the reflective process

3) Create real-life opportunities. 

No doubt, any self-respecting teacher already knows that empathy is an important part of a classroom –however, we all-to-often forget the last part –creating a real-life and relevant (to our grade level or subject and where our students come from) way to allow students to practice empathy. 




            For example, I currently teach middle school biology in a highly active and academically focused program, and you might think that my course is designed to prep students for high school/college by dissecting frogs, memorizing bones, and other fundamentals –however, over the years my colleagues and I have folded empathic practices into our curriculum wherever we could. For instance, while learning the anatomy of the ear –after using the textbook, and models, we give our students otoscopes (the little devices a doctor use to inspect your ear) and instruct them to identify as many parts as possible inside the ear of their lab partner!

This is no easy task!

First, students must be taught how to accomplish this while their “patient” feels emotionally safe, agreeing  to the examination, and then the technique (too far is bad, not far enough, you won’t see anything), and then they are prepped to be inside of their partner’s personal bubble, and to never say “Ewwwwwwwwwww!”, especially because, in just a few minutes, that person will be looking into your ear and seeing the same thing!

            Another technique we do is acquire organs that are often used as food from cultures not their own. I tell the story of my racial/social-cultural background of eating chitins as a child –how my grandmother would stink up the house all day cleaning the smooth, involuntary muscle out of the small intestines and cook them up into the funkiest stew you ever smelled/tasted. I remind them that by saying “Ewwwwwwwwwww!” you are in fact, “Yucking someone else’s yummy,” and instead, they should say “How interesting!” in a un-sarcastic manner. Actually, anything that causes a visceral reaction in my classroom –whether or not it is food should be addressed the same way.  “Train your brain to have an open mind,” I say. Thank you, Nancy Canino, for teaching me this.

        Students practicing empathy is one of the most important things we can do in our classrooms –no matter the subject.  Don’t just leave it to your English and social studies teachers. Hopefully, they have books at their disposal with protagonists who demonstrate essential human qualities, or books that challenge the reader to know the difference between sympathy and empathy by contrasting different cultural/socio-economic and racial views. They can easily assign an essay and ask their students to reflect –all within the timeframe and context of the course. But teaching empathy is also possible and essential in science, music, P.E. and art courses, etc.


My Own Humanity


In 2004, founded in a one-room Madison sublet, the Memory Project recruited tens of thousands of teenage artists to create hundreds of thousands of personalized portraits of children living in refugee camps and orphanages.  I was lucky enough to see some of these images displayed in our lunchroom and in the halls. Susan and Kyle (colleagues at my present school) took on the project with big hearts and passion, but they were astonished by the power it held over their students.

            “I was moved by how fast they connected to their subjects,” Kyle said at the lunchroom table. “They asked questions about their lives and their family and speculated about the circumstances that put them there in the first place.”

Whenever you look at the images, you see all at once the different techniques and expressions of each young artist –but more than anything, their subjects become real –more real than the careless and overexposed images we see in the news or commercials vying for our emotional attention, of which we’ve become apathetic. These pictures bring both the student-artist and the subject to life and in doing so, each student becomes a part of the solution. There wasn’t a day that I passed by the images that I did not stop and pause, think and wonder about how those refugees are doing. The project breathed new life into my own humanity.

In orchestra and band, Dr. Ekpo and Ms. Johansen collaborate regularly to include multicultural arrangements in their concerts and the P.E. department challenges students to invent games, teach the rules and then umpire them. Math courses are taught by sensitive, approachable instructors who accommodate all skill levels and learning styles.


Shopping Cart


This reminds me of something a student once said that recently blew my mind.  At the beginning stages of a STEAM project (not “STEM”! Please teachers, I beg you to call it Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, which incorporates more types of learners) where students were shown a video of engineers and designers “think-tanking” the shopping cart of the future. After some chatter and rough drafts, the consultants came up with great ideas: smart shopping carts that knew their way around the store, shopping carts that accommodate disabled people, shopping carts that bagged your groceries, shopping carts with anti-theft devices installed on the wheels.         I asked students to discuss some of the ideas they liked, and we worked our way through them all.

That’s when “Jacob” raised his hand and blew us all away.

            During the school year, Jacob and I got along fine. He was an A student, but kind of shifty: he had a sneaky face like one of the bad kids in a film that gave the protagonist hell.  He never initiated conversations with me outside of “when is the homework due?”  and at the back of the lab, I’d keep an eye on him when an experiment required fire. Compounding my blatant stereotyping was the fact that he seemed to know that I knew that he knew that I knew he was up to something. During our few conversations over the school year, we’d sometimes look into each other’s eyes like two Buddhas having tea, waiting for the other to take the first sip.

            Jacob raised his hand and disagreed with the group.

            “I like those ideas,” he said. “But I don’t like the anti-theft devices.”

           “Why?” I asked carefully, sure he was going to say something like: because I  steal them, load fireworks into them, light them on fire and send them downhills.  

            Jacob struggled a bit to get it out –but he was not embarrassed, nor was he vying for attention.

            “Anyone who steals a shopping cart probably needs it more than the store.”

            To be sure he wasn’t referencing his flaming-firecracker cart or stealing shopping carts as I did as a teen to make go-karts, or to play Toro! Toro! Toro! (google this if you don’t know what I’m talking about) I asked him to clarify.

            “Well, on the way to school I see a lot of homeless people carrying their stuff in shopping carts. It seems more important to let them have it rather than locking up the wheels.”

            Thank you, Jacob.

            Another example of a student giving me hope for the future while at the same time helping me become a better human.

         We cannot expect to teach our students everything they need to know about life and the future, but we do know that no matter what adversity they face, they will need to be in touch with their humanity via kindness, respect and the goodwill we teach in our classrooms.  Empathy It is not only important for their emotional development and growth but also their intellectual growth. Goodwill helps us learn and collaborate. (“Be brave today, ask a classmate you don’t know very well to help you solve a problem you couldn't solve.) Doing so only makes them stronger and more competitive. Long gone is the day of the lone genius, aka Steve Jobs, who through some rather strong-handed tactics, criticized and rode roughshod over his colleagues and contemporaries.

            Sure, we can applaud his innovations –but my gut tells me that in fact, while he was rising to success, there were many instances where he didn't need to be an asshole. How else can a good idea rise to the surface? Do good ideas only come from those of us who cut to the chase, hector and browbeat our collaborators? How many good ideas have been snuffed out from the introvert who is not so eloquent? And how many bad ideas have you watched become reality –just because of the magnetism of an extrovert?


Be Open


              Not too long ago I was given the opportunity to tour a start-up company that developed applications for selling goods in a more personable manner than the aging (but practical) Craigslist template. Most of the employees were young, but many of them were middle-aged, seasoned veterans of the industry who seemed to be fully engaged in company life.  Our task during this professional development trip was to gauge the skills that our students will need in a modern, twenty-first-century workplace.  Kudos to the administrators who gave us the day off to fully embed in this trip —everything from hospitals, research and development, software, and construction.

 I confidently grilled everyone I met. Because I was not an employee, I asked the same question of everyone—from the CEO down to the people making code, creating online security, and the artists in charge of creating a dynamic and interesting online storefront: “What is the most important thing I can teach my students?” 

I was not surprised in the least.

They all said it differently: get along well with others, be vulnerable, be intellectually curious, be open –but a top manager said it best. “Don’t let them be assholes,” he blushed, and then bragged about how fun and interesting it was to work with such supportive colleagues. “The myth of a single genius running a team or a company is over.”

            Jimmy the ex-cop would have been proud.