George Lucas Educational Foundation

Good Teaching is L.I.F.E

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I am going to bare a bit of my soul here when I share an experience that I believe has truly shaped who I am as a person and an educator. Although I believe I was always passionate about teaching, an experience nearly three years ago totally changed my outlook on what it means to be a teacher. On May 6th, 2011, I was almost killed in an accident while working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Long story short, I was at an international football tournament and a bus backed into a group of players from another international school (fortunately none of the students were injured). Sensing imminent danger, I ran to the front of the bus and smacked the door to get the bus driver's attention.

My left hand shattered the glass and the ulnar artery, ulnar nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles in my left hand and wrist were completely severed. As I pulled my hand back in horror, I immediately realized that I was in grave danger. Blood was squirting from the deep gashes in my left wrist with ferocity. I clamped on to my wrist and raised my hand above my head and with blood pouring down on my head and shoulders, I went in search for help.

The principal of the school was first to help. He grabbed on to my wrist as well to try and slow the bleeding. The school's driver rushed me to the the ex-pat emergency clinic located in the center of Phnom Penh. Both the principal and I sat quietly in the back seat clamping down on my bleeding wrist. What is usually a 20-minute car ride took nearly 45 minutes due to morning rush hour traffic. You can imagine the thoughts racing through my head during those 45 minutes. I thought I was going to bleed to death. I thought that I would never see my beautiful wife, Neila, and 2 amazing boys, Eli and Tai again. I fought hard not to pass out in the car.

The head of the clinic, Dr. Nick Walsh, from Australia, was on call that morning. As soon as he saw me, he said that I needed to be medically evacuated to Bangkok, Thailand for emergency surgery. The problem was we didn't have our passports as they were being renewed at the Canadian embassy in Bangkok. Seeing as there was no Canadian embassy in Cambodia, we had sent them off to Bangkok a week earlier to be renewed. Leaving the country was impossible. To complicate matters further, the handful of qualified orthopedic surgeons in Phnom Penh were not in town on that morning.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock......every second seemed like an eternity. A tourniquet was put in place to slow the bleeding as Dr. Nick tried to figure out what to do. Every time he came back in to see me, I could tell by the look on his face that the situation was getting worse. At one point, he put on goggles and went into my wound with arterial clamps to stop the bleeding and to buy more time as he searched in vain for someone who could help. The sight of blood squirting out on to his goggles will be burned into my memory forever.

The pain was indescribable and my arm was turning a dark shade of purple. Dr. Nick came back in to tell me that he found a retired Scottish orthopedic surgeon who runs a charity that provides volunteer surgeries on land mine victims. Dr. James Gollogly is the founder of this organization. He is a saint of a man who has devoted his life to making a difference in the lives of so many. I was rushed down to Dr. James who was waiting outside his clinic for me when the ambulance arrived. He performed an arterial ligation on my injured left wrist and is responsible for saving my arm at minimum and possibly my life.

A week later I was flown to Singapore to have total reconstruction done on my wrist and hand. Although my hand has not fully recovered, my perspective on life and on teaching has forever changed. And the man who changed my life is Dr. James Gollogly (see a picture of him by clicking the link below). If you ever feel in the mood to donate money to a charity, please visit the website of this amazing man's non-profit organization, the Children's Surgical Center of Cambodia.

The following three months after my surgery was an extremely difficult time. I was experiencing a lot of physical pain and setbacks as a result of the injury. Although I was doing intensive rehabilitation, there was little improvement in the condition of my hand. I had little feeling in the hand itself and very limited movement. It was a dark and depressing time, but all that began to change when I started up my new job in August 2011 at the Nanjing International School. Getting back doing what I loved doing was a critical turning point for me. Being able to teach again made such a difference in my mental and physical recovery.

Although I was always passionate about teaching, something inside of me had deeply shifted. For the first time, I realized that teaching really was my true calling. I made a promise to myself that I would be the very best teacher I could be. I wanted to touch as many teacher's lives as possible in an effort to highlight my belief that we have such a powerful role in making a difference to the children we teach. I made a promise to document my own teaching and learning journey and to publicly reflect on my own practice.

Reflection has played a big role in who I am as an educator. I sought to narrow down what good teaching really is. Intertwined with good teaching is being a thoughtful, caring person who has loads of empathy and compassion for others. I have broken down what I feel good teaching to be into 4 main components that I call the L.I.F.E model. Whether you are a teacher or a student, these 4 areas are critical to our success. Which areas resonate with you? Thanks for taking the time to read through this blog post. Each letter in L.I.F.E stands for something important. See below.

Learn to embrace mistakes and failures. They are the gateways to growth. Our identity is not defined by our mistakes but by our ability to persevere and overcome obstacles.

I am responsible for my learning, goals, and responses to others. Even in the face of adversity I seek first to understand, then be understood.

Find out what inspires and motivates you and surround yourself with it. Only we know what makes us tick and fuels the fire of our learning and passions.

Educating ourselves requires an understanding that we need to know more. Taking initiative in areas that require growth is the first step to deepening our practice, whatever that may be. Education is the greatest gift you can give to the person you were meant to be become.

To see my L.I.F.E model please visit my blog at

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

Andy--thanks for sharing such a personal and inspiring story with the community. Your passion for what you do is apparent in your writing! So sorry to hear that you went through such a painful and frightening experience, but how amazing that you turned it into something positive and reinvigorated your love for your profession! I couldn't agree more with your philosophies: teachers play a profound role in children's' lives, and the capacity for empathy and compassion is extremely important!

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

WOW!! Andy, I am speechless. I realized what I was writing in response is exactly what Lina wrote I am simply going to say, ditto and thank you for all you did and continue to do for kids.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Andy -- You are now one of my teaching heroes. I love the humility displayed by the letter E -- Educating ourselves requires an understanding that we need to know more. I admire principals that call themselves the "lead learners" of their building any any teacher that has a well-worn library card.

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