By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — “That’s the power you have when you work with kids. It breaks my heart how society at large has no clue how important you (teachers) all are. My life was impacted by the power of a teacher – men and women just like you.”
Those were the words from Dr. Adam Sáenz, a licensed psychologist, therapist and author, who was the keynote speaker at the Warsaw Community High School Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Aug. 11. He currently serves as the executive director of the Applied EQ Group, a counseling and assessment clinic he founded in 2003. Sáenz consults with school systems, nonprofits and corporations internationally in the areas of emotional intelligence, self-care, and the dynamics of relationship-based learning.
Sáenz is the fourth keynote speaker in Warsaw Community Schools’ 2021 Speaker Series and Wednesday’s event was a way to kick for the upcoming school year, which starts next week.
His message focused on encouraging and inspiring teachers to practice self-care while also recognizing how crucial their jobs are to shaping the lives of students.
Sáenz told the audience stories about two case studies regarding children whose lives were greatly affected by educators and adults who were not biologically related to them.
The first story was about Lou, a sixth-grade student who grew up in one of the poorest counties in the United States. The young teen, who struggled with drug use, came from a low socioeconomic background and didn’t have a father figure. After Lou’s arrest for drug possession, his mother voluntarily relinquished her parental rights.
When he turned 18 and graduated from high school, Lou decided to pursue further education upon being inspired by positive, impactful letters from two of his teachers. After being accepted into college, that’s when Dr. Adam Louis Sáenz decided he was “done being Lou.”
“Those words…they just destroyed me,” said Sáenz about the letters he received. “Because I said ‘I know who I am. I’m Lou Sáenz. I’m a 19-year-old version of that sixth grade kid who’s never going to learn. I know who I am. But here were these two women for whom I had tremendous respect because of who they were that were disagreeing with me. I couldn’t just blow them off because I knew they wouldn’t have written that if they didn’t believe in me. I never would have stepped out to do anything more than that mistaken version of who I thought I was, had educators not spoken truth into my life. Education did not change my life. Educators did.”
The second case study focused on Mya, a fourth-grade student who had been in the custody of Child Protective Services for two years.
“A family read Mya’s file and said ‘We know exactly what we’re signing up for,'” said Sáenz. “And on that day Mya Chavez became Mya Sáenz when my wife and I adopted her.”
A few days later, Sáenz and Mya went to a daddy-daughter dance but ate at Chick-Fil-A beforehand. During their meal, Sáenz talked with Mya about what her job was to him and what his job was to her.
“Your job is to follow the rules,” said Sáenz to Mya. “You don’t make the rules in our family. And your job is to follow them. My hope is by the time you’re 18, you’ve earned enough of my trust that you’re making your own rules.”
When Sáenz asked Mya what his job was, she said his job was to ensure she follows her adoptive parents’ rules. However, he disagreed with her.
“My job is to lay my life down for you,” said Sáenz, recalling what he said to Mya that day. “My job is to love you and to protect you and to provide for you and to comfort you. I said ‘Sweet girl, you don’t understand this about yourself yet, but you’re the most precious thing on the planet. Once you understand your value, you’ll realize your choices matters. You’ll understand that you’re not a mistake. My trust, I don’t give away, you earn that. But my love is a gift. All you have to do is receive it.'”
Sáenz concluded his presentation by thanking teachers and staff for what they do.
“When I think about the men and women who invested in me 40 years ago when quite frankly I wasn’t the best version of myself … that’s the power that you have,” said Sáenz to those in attendance.
“The kids whose lives you’re shaping, you’re shaping the life of the person they’re going to marry. You’re shaping the life of the kids they’ll parent. You’re shaping the life of the employees they’ll manage.”