Sometimes, the long path through school to a career is unswerving: A first grader decides to become a doctor, and, after years of hard work and study, she does. More often than not, though, the educational road is unpredictable, full of bumps, unmapped detours, and sudden forks. Many of us end up at destinations far different than those we set out for.
Each time a teacher works with a student, there exists the chance that a random remark, a single homework assignment, a well-deserved compliment, or a shared story will trigger a lifetime enthusiasm. This possibility, always waiting in the wings of every classroom, represents one of the most significant responsibilities of educators, and one of the greatest sources of hope and excitement in teaching.
Successful lives are often the result of what is learned when we are supposed to be learning something else. The following seven personal stories, from accomplished men and women in fields ranging from music to magazines, from real estate to restaurants, from television to literature -- CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, author Lemony Snicket, builder Donald Trump, mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade, restaurateur Alice Waters, Smithsonian editor in chief Carey Winfrey -- illustrate the crucial importance of such hard-to-measure factors as serendipity, curiosity, and coincidence, and often a teacher with a keen instinct about a student's unsuspected potential.
Owen Edwards is a contributing editor for Edutopia and Smithsonian magazines.