Zak of All Trades: Letting our lives speak into those of others

Because of the late hours that I work, there aren't a whole lot of things that I look forward to setting an alarm in the morning for.

But Monday, I considered it an honor to wake to my alarm, because I knew the special nature of the occasion I was waking for.

It was Monday morning that we went to the high school and the middle school to honor the Teachers of the Year — a promotion we do each year and a small token of just how much we appreciate the teachers in our community.

I was delighted to do the high school interview with Nancy Lazorchak, and it was great to see the look on the face of Ryan Hayden as we showed up at his door.

And while I wasn't able to be there for the elementary presentation, Michele Basile-Long's presentation was also a delight, according to my co-workers.

It is a good thing to pay homage to those who do well, and the truth of the matter is, there are dozens and dozens of worthy candidates here in town for Teacher of the Year.

We are fortunate enough to be a part of the presentation for three each year, but each day, the teachers are pouring all they have into educating the youth of this town.

I understand the importance of educating Punxsy's youth, because I used to be a member of those ranks. I grew up right here in Punxsutawney.

I went to Parkview Elementary, then moved to the junior high (that's right kids, it was called the junior high, and it was downtown when I was a kid).

I graduated from PAHS with the Class of 2000 and have always been proud to call Punxsy my home.

The timing of the Teacher of the Year awards allowed me to reflect back on my own schooling here, and it brought back nothing but fond memories.

As the editor of the paper, I'm reminded of just how busy this time of year is for graduating seniors, as we're sending someone to cover these waning days of their high school careers, clinging to every last memory to help them and their loved ones have something to forever cling to.

This past week, the seniors celebrated Class Night, and next week, the members of PAHS will take the biggest walk of their young lives at graduation.

And if there's one thing they leave this place remembering, as they go on to college or settle into their own lives — here or elsewhere — I hope they never forget the lessons their teachers taught them.

In elementary school, I was blessed with good teachers from start to finish — Mrs. Kunselman, Mrs. Keeley, Mrs. Fye, Miss Vasbinder, Miss Astorino, Mr. Neal and Mr. Caylor — who taught me valuable life lessons that I've hung on to over the years.

They weren't just teaching us kids basic reading skills, and they weren't just teaching us about the dinosaurs.

The education I received at Parkview was much more than that — it was a life education that taught me how to be a young man.

In middle school and high school, shorter periods with a variety of teachers provided a different challenge: The teachers had 43-minute bursts to instill the lessons they wanted to into our lives.

But the blessing in it all was that each and every day we were doused with knowledge — both academic and life lessons — by seven or eight teachers a day.

Then, I went on to college and seminary, where I was continually blessed with good teachers who saw the holistic importance of educating the students in their lives.

I majored in mathematics education in college, and I had every intention of becoming a teacher when I graduated.

But things changed when I did my student teaching, as I wasn't sure I could handle the daily grind of the teacher.

It really does take a special person to teach each and every day in the school setting.

But the most important thing I learned in my student teaching came from one of my advisors when I was asked what I thought of my experience in the schools.

When I told him that I wasn't so sure that this teaching thing was for me anymore, he gave me a very important life lesson that I've certainly returned to over and over.

He told me, "Zak, you don't have to be a teacher to teach."

It sounds so simple, but it transformed the way I have lived my life.

I see everything I do as a potential teaching moment now, and although I'm not a teacher, I think that I'm in a position where people can learn from my life and from my experiences.

And more importantly, it transformed my worldview to see that I'm always a student of the things that are going on around me.

Everyone has valuable lessons to pass on, and we all have valuable lessons that we need to learn.

That's the beauty of this world, and the best way to be the best teachers and students that we possibly can be is easily encompassed by the phrase that Nancy Lazorchak's friend passed to her when she asked her how she could possibly make it through battling cancer and teaching and living life.

Her friend told her, "Let your life speak."

Lazorchak took those words to heart, and she continued to become more than just a school teacher. She became a life teacher.

If there is only one lesson I could keep from all my days as a student, it would be to never stop being a student and to let my life speak.

I had never heard it said that way before Monday, but I've had people teaching me that since I was a kid.

We're all teachers. We're all students. Let's let our lives speak.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and a student of life.