The Karen Huff Klein Story: The Vintage TeacherFIRE Story

I have in the last two years led the installation of The TeacherFIRE Revolution in more than sixty-five public and private schools, reaching more than three thousand teachers within and outside Lagos State with outstanding testimonies to the glory of God Almighty, who gives us the grace. I was speaking with a school leader recently who testified that one of his teachers who sat in the TeacherFIRE Session at the Association of Private School Educators of Nigeria(APEN) came back fully revolutionised and has since remained so.

The TeacherFIRE Revolution was borne out of my story of childhood abuse in the hands of my teachers in my primary and secondary schools. One of the most damaging of the stories is that when I was that in primary school at the age of 9 I lost a friend while we were playing and my primary 3 teacher, who was not there and did not bother to ask me what the matter was, concluded I killed my friend and nicknamed me ‘Esu’ (the devil).Unknown to my handlers was the fact that for every one wrong word you say to a child, you need seventeen to correct it. I have also been an active participant in the Nigerian private and public school systems since 1997 and I found that the attitude of my teachers in school bear striking and fearful resemblance with the attitude of present day Nigerian teachers.

The TeacherFIRE Revolution is a biographical study of teachers  who have lived at different times and cultures and have against all odds revolutionised the lives of their pupils. One question I set out to ask through the 13 year study was, ‘what was it that my teachers did not know that made them treat and abuse me the way they did?’ I also concluded that  if I found what my teachers did not know, I would automatically find what the teachers in the school system today did not know that make them  repeat the errors of the teachers of my day.

The question was answered at the end of my biographical studies. I was glad to find what they did not know and that helped me to develop what they should know. What they should know to give a hope and a future to the children under their care informed the creed of The TeacherFIRE Revolution: ‘to raise a BEST-INTEREST-OF-THE-CHILD-conscious generation of teachers/instructors, who DELIBERATELY combine DIVINE WISDOM, passion, compassion, conviction, and sense of mission to CONNECT with the child’s HEART, thereby IGNITING and NURTURING(through Mentoring, Modelling and Moulding) into MATURITY his/her GOD-endowed HUMAN INGENUITY, the fundamental trait of a COMPLETE CHILD.’

One of the principles I share with teachers is that they should agree with the popular saying in Africa that ‘the rewards of teachers are in heaven.’ I tell the teachers that there is not better secured place for one to keep his/her rewards but heaven, so the Holy Writ taught us. I open their eyes to the fact that a trust fund has been opened in heaven for them. I tell them that they don’t however have to get to heaven before reaping the rewards. I teach them the wisdom to employ to access their rewards or trust fund while here on the earth. The secret is very clear as I share with the teachers: it is a total commitment to against all odds doing all purposefully and intentionally in the best interest of the child, which is the essence of The TeacherFIRE Revolution.

I encourage teachers that they must labour to understand that life is set in scenes and seasons. Our relevance in life is strictly tied to recognising and playing our roles within our scene. It is to abide wherein we are called with God. When we perfect the discipline of remaining in our scenes, our seasons of private and public profiting (rewards and significance) will surely follow. Our preoccupation must not always be seasons, it must be recognising, playing our roles within our scenes and refusing every temptation to do otherwise. I warn the teachers that the temptation to look outside our scenes is ever formidable. The grass will always look greener on the other side even if the other side is Sodom and Gomorrah as it turned out to be for Lot.

The foregoing principle reverberated when I began to follow the inspiring story of  the school bus monitor, Karen Huff Klein, 68, widow and grandmother, who was bullied by four male students attending Greece Athena Middle School and the bullying was filmed on the bus by a fifth student.

The video, titled ‘Making the Bus Monitor Cry,’ was originally posted on Facebook and later reposted on Youtube on June 19 and went viral almost immediately with more than two million viewers to date.

The video recorded the 7th grade boys bulling the school bus monitor to a point of tears with some of these negative remarks: ‘Karen’s a bitch,’ and ‘fat troll.’ They said many more unpleasant words to her and began to touch her and demanded her to provide her address on camera. They threatened to egg her house, urinate on her door, and stab her. Karen did not only refuse to retaliate, her response to her children bullies was remarkable: “I know all of your addresses! I’m going to send you all thank-you cards, for being so nice.” Klien also informed the media that this was not the first time she would be a victim of bullying in the hands of pupils.

What began as a negative story is beginning to have a happy and rewarding ending for Karen Klein. Soon after the video went viral, Max Sidorov, a nutritionist, author and Ukrainian immigrant living in Toronto who says he had been a victim of bullying as a child, started a campaign at fundraising site Indiegogo with a goal of $5,000, to help give Klein a vacation. Within a few days of its creation, the fund, which is to end on July 20, 2012 it, was announced by CNN on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 to have hit $665, 499 and still counting far beyond the expectation of the fund raisers.

Besides, the funds that has been raised Anderson Cooper announced on his show on CNN, Anderson Cooper 360° that a leading Airline in America, Southwest Airlines offered to pay for a trip for Klein and nine people of her choice to Disneyland for a three-night visit. In addition to all these I watched Klein on Isha Sasey’s CNN NewsCenter reading countless of letters of encouragement and gifts she has received from her admirers all over the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is nominated and voted as a CNN Hero this year.

Karen Klein has worked as an employee of the Greece Central School District in upstate New York for 23 years, 20 as a bus driver and 3 as a bus monitor. She has been a widow since 1995, and has eight grandchildren. She is hearing-impaired, and uses a hearing aid. At the time the video was shot, she was 68 years old.

Here is a season of rewards and significance for a woman that has remained faithfully on her scene, playing her roles with dedication for 23 years.

It was as if she would die unnoticed but when her season comes, in a twinkle of an eye Karen Huff Klein was put in the eye of the world. Her story has been covered by all meaning national and international print, electronic and new media within and outside America, including the acclaimed World News Leader, CNN.  I just read about her on Wikipedia. She wasn’t there before June 19, 2012.

To this season of profiting, Klein responded, “It does make me feel a whole lot better. I appreciated everything. I think it’s awesome.”

The Karen Huff Klein is another vintage TeacherFIRE story. It is a validation of the principles I have taught to thousands of teachers in the last two years. It clearly one of the findings of our biographical studies that no one except God can reward a teacher for her labour of love on the children under her care. I hope we know that that teaching profession is nothing but a labour of love. It is even foolishness for the teacher to seek or work out his/her own reward. The point cannot be overemphasized that all that the teachers needs to do, particularly in the Third World, where the place of the teacher is not well-recognised and properly rewarded is to remain faithful in his/her scene, playing his/her role with commitment, passion and sense of mission and expect a season of profiting. When a teacher imbibes this principle, he/she will find his/her first priceless fulfilment in the revolutionised destinies of the children, who pass through him/her and thereafter the world will be forced to celebrate and honour him/her.  It is an age-long principle, which again the story of Karen Huff Klein is confirming now.

In conclusion, you may want to ask, is Karen Huff Klein, school bus monitor a teacher? Or better still, is everybody in the school system a teacher? Here is my daring answer: Yes, Karen Huff Klein is a teacher. Yes, everybody in the school system (including non-living things) is a teacher.  I see the school as an institution of learning, where everybody within the system has the proven capacity to affect the lives of the pupils positively or otherwise. This is ever true when we take into consideration that children are programmed by nature to learn more through observation than through words of mouth. Thus it has been concluded that children do not do what the adults says. They do what he/she does.

It is important to note however that the level of influence differs from person to person depending on the access he/she has to the pupils by virtue of his/her office or peculiar practices of a particular school. I make bold to say that there are more teachers in the school system than stakeholders have reckoned with and this is not only pitiable but destructive. I hope we know that if we agree that children learn more from observation, then children also learn from non-living things (like physical structures and maintenance of same and others).

Karen Huff Klein is therefore a teacher. Call her a non-verbal teacher, she is still a teacher. The verbal prowess is useless without the on-verbal attributes of character, integrity and exemplary living, which are better lived than taught. Karen Huff Klein taught the children and the world one lesson. She taught us all how to respond to personal crisis. She chose to be better instead of being bitter. Though she expressed her emotion by weeping, he holds no grudge against the children and her employers. She has decided not to quit her job.

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