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June 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 9

Tell Me About … / The Teacher Who Made the Difference

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She Pushed Me Out of the Nest

I'm a teacher because of LaVone Holt. She took me under her wing and taught me journalism and English over four years of high school, but her greatest contribution to my life came on a visit I made to her AP English classroom during spring break from college. She asked what I was studying, and when I said Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, she announced to the class, "Tim is going to teach you today." Then she sat down. I was stunned, but I stumbled through a quick overview of the themes, drew a rough map on the chalkboard, and answered questions from the students. At the end of the period, Mrs. Holt assigned an essay based on my lesson. As I left the room, I knew that I was born to be a teacher.
—Timothy Dohrer, director, Master of Science in Education program, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

He Cheered Me On Through College

"You can and you will go to college—and I will help you make it happen." These words were spoken to me nearly 50 years ago by my economics teacher, D. J. Harris. Born into a working-class family with no women ever attending college, I seriously doubted his words. I believed I had no tools to even begin the journey. Mr. Harris helped me dream, apply, write the essays, and win scholarships. He also followed my progress all four years, cheering me on and offering advice. Until he died, he remained a guiding force in my professional life. If he were still alive today, I would share with him how I have passed it on, helping first-generation kids get into college and fulfill their dreams.
—Jacquelyn Drummer, gifted and talented coordinator, School District of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin

She Supported Me in Tough Times

Mrs. Harvey, my 6th grade teacher, made every student feel like the most important person in the room. Because my parents were divorcing, we were living in a poor area of the school district that some wrote off as non-college-bound. I had a brother who got into trouble and had to spend some time at Boys Town in Omaha. When I wrote about my feelings, Mrs. Harvey was moved to tears and said she couldn't wait to meet my brother when he came home for a visit. Mrs. Harvey nurtured the human spirit, and she made me want to achieve more than my circumstances would predict at the time. I felt that she really listened when I told her about my parents' divorce or about taking care of my grandfather because my mom was working two jobs.
Although I'm soon to enter my 60s, Mrs. Harvey is still a part of my life. She stays in contact via phone calls and Facebook. She showed up at the visiting hours for my mother 10 years ago, offering the same kind words and loving hugs that gave support to a young student who needed them so many years before.
—Judi Mireles, school counselor, Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa

She Shared the Adventure of Learning

Grade 2 … Mrs. Carver … 1969. During breaks and vacations, she would travel and return with remarkable trinkets to show us. Once she brought a necklace made from a shark's tooth and then read a poem about sharks. (We lived five hours from the ocean, and many of us had never visited there.) She taught us that when we learn, we can travel anywhere we want to imagine.
—Tom Yarber, professional tutor, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg

He Kindled My Passion for Science

The educator who really made a difference to me was my 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Wayne South. He was one of the most inspiring, passionate, supportive educators that I ever experienced. He opened my eyes to what authentic learning is all about. I still remember the project where, instead of just learning about Mars, we transformed the entire classroom into the surface of Mars. It was Mr. South who helped me develop my passion for science, and I eventually pursued a teaching degree in science and wrote a book on teaching science. The way he taught back then is the way I try to push my teachers to teach today.
—Eric Sheninger, principal, New Milford High School, Bergen County, New Jersey

She Gave Me a Model

Dear Mrs. Gates,
It is your 2nd grade classroom that I pictured when I set up my first classroom—everything arranged just right for my 1st and 2nd graders. It is your hugs that I feel whenever a little one hugs me now. I don't shy from hugging them back because I remember how much I needed the hugs. Every crazy idea I've tried in my 30-something years in education stems from the seeds you planted back in 2nd grade. I figure that if Mrs. Gates can give kids in the city of Chicago a safari experience, then anything is possible. Yes, I remember clearly walking down Logan Boulevard dressed in "safari" clothes picking fruit that you had painstakingly hung on the low branches of trees. Because of you, I believe in building relationships and giving children as many experiences as possible. You opened up the world to me, and for that I will ever be grateful.
—Ana Lozano Wilson, principal, Valley View School District 365U, Bolingbrook, Illinois

She Turned the Learning Over to Students

Miss Tiff, my junior year English teacher, shifted my understanding of what it means to learn. Until taking her class, I had only attended traditional teacher-centered, lecture-style classes in middle and high school. In Miss Tiff's class, we sat in a U shape and held discussions. The atmosphere of the classroom was academic, collaborative, and active. We were encouraged to say things like, "I concur with … " and "I disagree because …." I now recognize the teaching model as Socratic circles, but at the time it was just Miss Tiff being a good enough teacher to let go of control and turn the learning over to her students. She inspired me to become the teacher I am today. Like her, I aim to listen instead of talk, encourage instead of inform, and create engaged learners instead of passive listeners.
—Christine Layton, instructional coach and English language arts teacher, Harmony Public Schools, El Paso, Texas

She Helped Me Adjust to a New Country

I came to the United States from Mexico when I was a 1st grader. My first teacher was Miss Hornung. I have vivid memories of my first days of school. I loved sitting at her feet during story time to listen to her rhythmic voice. She gave me a bilingual partner and made it OK to speak Spanish. My extended family was always welcome in her classroom, and she didn't even mind if I kissed her on the cheek when I left, just like I was used to doing in Mexico. Miss Hornung and I are colleagues now, and she continues to help me become an effective instructional coach.
—María Ortiz-Smith, instructional coach, U.S.D. 443, Dodge City, Kansas

She Introduced Us to the Magic of Literature

In 4th grade, I blossomed in the class of a first-year teacher who enjoyed doing plays in reading and investigating rocks in science. Miss Sandra Way encouraged us to think, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. About once a week, she let me stay after school to help her. She believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. Best of all, Miss Way introduced us to the world of children's literature. Hearing the book's plastic dustcover crackle as she opened it was enough to send a shiver of anticipation up our spines. Our literary travels took us to the world of Pippi Longstocking, the time of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the secret garden of Mary Lennox and Colin Craven. To this day, I am an avid reader because of Miss Way. As an educator, sharing literature with my students is just one way Miss Way's legacy lives on.
—Lisa Kincer, teacher, Ireland Elementary School, Jasper, Indiana

She Wouldn't Let Me Give Up

In 4th grade, I was having major trouble in mathematics. My teacher told my mother that she needed to hold me back because there was no way I could be successful in 5th grade. My mother reached out to Mrs. Huff, who had been my kindergarten teacher. I rode my bike to Mrs. Huff's house several times a week to be tutored. She was so patient, and most of all, she believed in me and wouldn't let me give up. She used real-life methods to help me understand the content. Fast forward 25 years: Last year we ran into each other at a company training. We had ended up working for the same consulting company! She is very much a part of the blueprint of my success.
—Candace McClendon, education consultant, The New Teacher Institute, Biloxi, Mississippi

She Made Me Feel Like I Mattered

Mary Neely saved my life. When I found myself homeless and hopeless, she seemed to see me in a way that no other adult could. She made me feel like I mattered by spending time just talking to me and going out of her way to listen. Ms. Neely used journals in her theater class, and she wrote back to each and every student's entry. When I gave her some money to hold while I performed in a play and forgot to get it back, she brought it to my house—which, at that time, was a foster home. She made me feel like I mattered, and she made me want to be a teacher so that I can make other students feel that they are cherished, too.
—Jean Greenidge, AVID teacher/coordinator, Garland Independent School District, Garland, Texas

She Encouraged Students to Take Pride in Their Learning

During my first three years teaching, I worked alongside Kelli Bailey. These years were full of growth and learning. One particular lesson Kelli taught me has stayed with me. At the end of each day, Kelli would gather the kids on the carpet, have them turn around and look at their classroom, and simply ask, "Are you proud of the way you are leaving the classroom?" This prompted the students to reflect on what they had accomplished that day and to tidy up the classroom in preparation for the next day. Now, not only do I ask my students this question at the end of the day, but when I leave the classroom I ask myself, "Am I proud of the way I am leaving the classroom?" We all incorporate the day's learning and prepare for the next. This is the legacy that Kelli instilled in me so early in my career.
—Allison Hogan, primary teacher, Episcopal School of Dallas, Dallas, Texas

She Taught Me to Slow Down and Listen

Mrs. Aguilar, my child development teacher in my early college years, always said, "When we are working with children, we must stop and really examine and listen to the children." I never wanted to work in education before I took her class, but after seeing how passionate and dedicated she was, I knew that my calling would be education. I have been an elementary school teacher, and now I am at the high school level helping English language learners reach their potential. She changed me by showing me that when we slow down and really listen to children, we could be just what they need, and in turn that could change their lives.
—Selina Molina, ESL liaison, Alvin ISD, Manvel, Texas

She Helped Me Channel My Anger

I would not have a college education without the guidance, love, and care of my 8th grade home economics teacher, Velma May. She taught me what it meant to be a lady and scholar. I thought 8th grade was the end of the world because of my parents' divorce and my father moving three hours away. Mrs. May showed me that I could channel my anger through track and field. The advice she gave me saved my life. I was awarded a full track and field scholarship, and I am no longer the person who wanted to fight the world. Mrs. May is still a vital part of my life. I use her lessons to guide me when working with young girls in my classroom. I am very thankful for her, and I make sure to keep in touch through social media.
—Khalilah Clopton, teacher, DeKaney/Spring, Houston, Texas

He Helped Me Grow as an Educator

I had almost given up on the profession, but Tim Hilborn reminded me of our purpose as educators. Mr. Hilborn was my superintendent, but he was a learner and a teacher above all. His passion for learning was contagious. He encouraged me to learn and lead and make a difference in the lives of those around me every day. He visited my classroom and learned with my students. He asked me questions. He challenged my thinking. He believed in me.
—Amber Clay-Mowry, curriculum director, Highland Local Schools, Sparta, Ohio

She Was Dramatic!

My 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Evelyn Jarrett, changed my life for the better. She used to say, "Organization–you can't beat it." Then she would ask, "Does your mother go in the kitchen when it is time to cook, and say 'Sue, have you seen my pot?'" She would also say, "Did I lend you your clothes, your jacket, or your shoes? I am not lending you anything to do your work." Ms. Jarrett made Shakespeare come alive! She was very dramatic, and it had a profound impact on me.
—Diane Fitzpatrick, teacher, Spring ISD, Houston, Texas

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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