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I’m sitting in the teacher’s lounge at Liberty Intermediate School in Bourbonnais, witnessing and pondering the power of influence.

I work full-time as an author, columnist and speaker, but also love to substitute teach on occasion. Our county, as it is with many across the nation, has a shortage of substitute teachers.

I want to contribute to my community … so here I am.

We all end up where, what and who we are through the power of influence of others. Next to immediate family, no other person has the power to influence young minds and hearts as do our teachers. And the teachers at Liberty are inspirational.

I’m also thinking about how school has changed since my time. Soft soothing music is played in the classrooms. The dress code is very relaxed. The schools are brighter and there are positive and uplifting words plastered all over the walls. It all seems encouraging, uplifting and inducing of a higher level of learning. Unfortunately, the statistics do not always seem to support my thought. I suspect it has less to do with the school and more to do with the changes in our nation’s family life, but that is a subject for another column.

What kind of influencer are you?

When someone is watching us, and that is most of the time, we are setting an example whether we want to or not. The example we set, positive or negative, has the power to influence others. I wonder what better service we can provide the world? We can do so by just setting a good example.

I didn’t realize the impact at the time, but many people positively influenced me with their encouragement and example. With the passing of time, the roads we travel become clear. I see how different teachers and other adults have helped me become who and what I am. I bet you can say the same. I think as adults, it becomes our turn to give back and positively impact others.

Mrs. Heinz was my English teacher as a sophomore in high school. I was a mediocre student and always claimed that I hated to read. The story is too long to tell here, but Mrs. Heinz’s positive and relentless encouragement influenced me to read “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles. Her selfless encouragement, using that book as her tool, turned me into a lifelong reader, turned author and columnist. If not for Mrs. Heinz, I am certain you would not be reading this column today. The influence of an English teacher changed the trajectory of my life. Truth is stranger than fiction, neither Mrs. Heinz nor I could have ever imagined that my son, Toby Moore, would end up playing the role of Finny, one of the two leads in the Paramount Pictures movie by the same name. Who could have ever imagined? 

Every school district has different qualifications for substitute teaching and in most, there is a severe shortage of willing substitutes. It is a way you can have a positive influence and make a difference. I encourage you to check the districts near you to see if you qualify. You can participate on your schedule and accept or reject opportunities as they are presented. You do get paid, so it’s also a great part time job.

If ‘subbing’ doesn’t trip your trigger, or you do not meet the qualifications, there are church youth groups, scouting programs, local children’s sports, CYO, Young Life, Youth for Christ and countless other opportunities to be of positive influence. I do understand that it’s easier not to do anything, but if you are willing, the sense of reward from making a difference is worth your time. The impact you have on a child can change both their world and yours.

I challenge you to think about how you can be salt and light in the life of another. There is someone nearby that would benefit from your life experience — or maybe just your time and attention. Someone in your past lit a flame inside of you. As Luke teaches us, “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. They put it on its stand so those that come in may see the light.”

Will you be a candle in the life of another? Will you use your life and light to ignite theirs?

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Gary W. Moore is a syndicated columnist, speaker and author of three books including the award-winning, critically acclaimed, “Playing with the Enemy.” Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryWMoore721 and at www.garywmoore.com.

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