At every annual pre-session conference for Harding University’s faculty, President Bruce McLarty takes great care to see that there is significant time and attention devoted to reflecting upon the lives of Harding students and the impact their teachers have on them. Alumni Tom Brandon, a lifelong elementary school teacher and close friend of McLarty’s, was asked to speak on this topic at this year’s conference.
Brandon graduated from Harding in 1981 and went into teaching soon after, first in Oklahoma and later in Alabama, often preaching and performing mission work as well. He also coached basketball, baseball, softball and soccer for the school, in addition to his teaching responsibilities, for which he received numerous awards. After 20 years, Brandon retired from coaching and became the school’s bus driver as he continued to teach. His blog, “Mr. Brandon’s School Bus,” chronicles his experiences with the students on his bus route, and is in the process of being turned into a book.
At the pre-session conference, Brandon, in the spirit of the many children he picked up and dropped off every school day, challenged Harding’s faculty with the words, “I dare you.” He dared faculty members to dig deeper with their students and fulfill their role as world-changers by viewing their work as a ministry.
“I dared them to be world-changers,” Brandon said. “To get to know their students as people, because that’s what good teachers do, to dig deeper, to be adopted into the Harding University family with a student.”
Brandon’s inspiration for such a message stems in part from his time at Harding.
“You can get a good education in hundreds of places across the United States,” Brandon said. “What really sets Harding apart is that you get more than an education. You make connections that last a lifetime.”
McLarty said he appreciated Brandon’s approach.
“Every student has a story,” McLarty said. “These are individuals. They all have their own concerns and fears. Teachers have the opportunity to address those.”
McLarty said he sent every faculty member a notepad with the words “I Dare You” written at the top as a reminder of Brandon’s message.
Brandon retired from teaching in 2015, after more than 34 years in education. In his final blog post, Brandon wrote a letter for whoever will serve as his replacement as a bus driver. He ended it by noting the blessing students were who came in and out of his life.
“My story is just one of many stories where kids come to Harding, and it makes all the difference in the world for them,” Brandon said.