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Sheryl Green: The power of a teacher's influence

Shakespeare once wrote, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

Most often our familiarity with the verse stops there, but continue just a little further into the poem and a hidden gem of appropriateness is found: "They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts ... (including) the whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school." I laugh out loud at the foresight of Shakespeare, which gives me a sort of reassurance that kids have ALWAYS been reluctant students, even dating back to the 1500s.

As an English teacher, I am partial to the poetry of Shakespeare, but Isaiah Harper, the renowned drama teacher at Northside High School, is partial to the plays, of course, and this is a story about one of his students whom we'll call Bob.

Like Shakespeare predicted, a noted discipline problem with a lengthy criminal record unwillingly crept like a snail into Mr. Harper's theater class. During introductions, the redhead bluntly proclaimed, "Hi, my name is Bob, and I am a crack baby."

Shocked at Bob's candor, Mr. Harper meandered toward Bob at the final bell and offered a bit of advice: "Next time, why not try something like, 'Hi! My name is Bob, and I like football.'" The redhead laughed, and a rapport between the two was formed.

Bob's attendance proved intermittent and his work ethic was almost non-existence, but the relentless Mr. Harper never faltered in helping Bob rewrite the script he was destined by society to perform.

There's a feeling around the halls of Northside that even the most troubled students understand: "Once a Harper baby, always a Harper baby." That sentiment stems from Isiah's unwillingness to compromise in his passion for his students -- every single student, from the Ivy League-bound to the penitentiary-bound.

On one particular day, Harper bent his ear to listen to the woes of Bob. Initially, Bob's goal was to clear himself from the claws of a gang and be the first in his family to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, life happened.

His mother had elevated from crack to meth. He himself had relapsed into drugs, making some unfortunate choices and now facing a warrant for his arrest.Our beloved drama teacher listened and then made the easy choice: He chose to offer Bob the same visionary pen Shakespeare used so many years ago and presented Bob with options -- simple options to write his own destiny and perform a different role in life. The two devised a plan to face the consequences of his choices, but more importantly to rise above them.

Bob was arrested that night. So many times, jail time is the end of someone's play, but once a Harper baby, always a Harper baby. Choosing hope offers a different ending. Several years later, Mr. Harper got a 10 o'clock phone call. It was Bob, and his first words were, "I followed the plan!"

Bob did his time, moved away from the negative influences of his past, married and started a family. He was sober and clean, as well as a high school graduate working on his vocational degree

in welding. The intent of his call was simple: to thank the man who never gave up on him and saw a different role to be played when he himself could not. Sometimes teachers do that. They stand in the gap for kids and see things others cannot. When destiny seems to dictate an unfortunate role on stage, teachers grab a pen and start rewriting. Isiah Harper mirrors that relentless passion for kids exhibited so often in the hallways of our Columbus schools. That's the power of a teacher's influence.

Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at