Pastor Joe Coppola is currently the senior pastor of New England Baptist Church but during my tenure there, he was an assistant pastor, principal of New England Baptist Academy and definitely one of the most influential teachers I ever had growing up.
For any of my students who may have stumbled across this, if you ever saw Pastor Coppola teach, you’ll recognize some of my strange mannerisms. When you take one of his classes, you not only walk away knowing the material, you walk away knowing him. He opened up quite a bit in class through the stories he told and thus allowed us to enter into his life experiences. Remember that trip to San Francisco… He was a story-teller like no other. This created a bond of trust that allowed him to enter into our lives and leave a lasting impact.
Then there were those times he broke out into song at the most random moments. For example, once while correcting each other’s papers he broke out into a chorus of “two points off for each one wrong, do-dah, do-dah…).
However, what I will remember to my dying day was a crucial point in my life that he probably never knew happened. One day during a Physics class another student had come to his desk to ask for help. Being busy at that moment, he told the student, “Go see Kevin, he gets it.” I got it? Kevin Thompson got it? I was a kid who struggled with academics since the first day I entered kindergarten. I repeated the third grade and spent much of my time in the “resource room” for students that needed extra help. For a teacher to send another student to me for help was a game-changer for me. From that point on, I suddenly felt like I might be, dare the thought, capable. Maybe even… smart? I once was once told as a small child not to worry about grades because “Thompsons don’t do well in school.” Now, for the first time that I could ever remember, a teacher had confidence in me. That moment changed my life forever.
A few years ago, I was chosen to be the Teacher of the Month in the city of Beloit. That was because of Joe Coppola. When I finished up my master’s degree this summer, I thought about Pastor Coppola. This week when I learned I was nominated to enter into the The Kohl Teacher Fellowship, it was because of his influence. He believed in me. He encouraged me. Pastor Coppola, thank you for the huge investment you made in my life. Thank you for giving my the encouragement I needed to realize the potential that not many saw.
PS. I apologize for the grammatical mistakes you probably found in this post…