a career-changing moment or experience
Make It Real
When the cell door slammed behind me, I jumped. “If you need us, just call out and we will get here as soon
as we can,” the guard chuckled.
My attention immediately turned to
the hulk of a man reclined on the con-
crete bunk. He half spoke and half
growled, “Are you the teach?”
Nervously, I simply nodded.
“Have a seat.” There were no chairs
in the cell, and the only “seat” was the
stainless steel commode. Did he want
me on it or the floor? As I started to
crouch down on the floor, he said,
“No, man, sit here.” He swung his legs
off his bed, creating room for me to sit
next to him.
My world was about to change, but
I had no idea how much.
It was my first time working with
Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship program. Yes, Chuck Colson of Watergate
fame. I volunteered to work with inmates and help them gain skills to ensure they would make no return trips
through the system.
When I asked Jim, my new protégé,
what he wanted to learn, he quietly responded, “Long division.” He explained that as a young boy, he loved
school more than anything. He would
run two miles to school every morning
to be sure he was on time and take a
At the start of third grade, a new
teacher announced that the class was
going to study long division. Then, in-
explicably, the new teacher looked
straight down at Jim with a piercing
glare and said. “But you, young man,
are too stupid to understand long divi-
sion, so you need to pick up your stuff
and sit in the corner of the room.”
Everything good that school repre-
sented suddenly dissolved into a near
hatred of all things educational . . .
Jim confided that he never did figure out long division, and maybe the
teacher was right. As our weekly meetings continued, I learned Jim was a
huge baseball fan and also coached
three kids’ teams. When I explained
that computing batting averages was
just long division, his eyes lit up like
flares. I reached over and opened the
sports page of the Washington Post and
showed him how major league ball
players’ averages were computed.
The very next week I returned to
find the sports page folded back to
show number of times at bats and num-
ber of hits, but hiding the average. Jim
had a stack full of Indian Chief red
tablets and had calculated every single
player listed on the page. He had me
check his work.
He asked, “What’d I make, Teach?"
I replied, “You made a 91. It’s an ‘A.’”
Jim was so happy, he jumped off his
rack. I went for a high five, but he went
for a bear hug. He spun me around the
tiny cell whooping and hollering.
“You’re a good teach, Tim, ‘cause
you know how to make it real.”
When speaking or training, my guid-
ing principle is making the topic real
for my audience. Can you make it real
for your audience?
Jim served his time and now works
in a lumber yard filling orders requiring
long division. He’s a whiz at it and
doesn’t need a calculator.
Tim Durkin, CSP, is a speaker,
trainer and seminar leader in
the healthcare industry. He
has worked for nearly 20
years teaching clinical and
non-clinical staff how to better manage and
lead their employees, patients and patients’
families. Visit www.timdurkin.com.