What makes a good teacher? What inspires someone to become a teacher in the first place? And, what inspires them to keep teaching, even during tough times?
These questions have been on my mind lately, and the answers don’t necessarily come easy. To get to the heart of the matter, we asked The Ambassador Group (TAG) for Pitsco, “Which of your past (or fellow) teachers have been most meaningful to you? How has their influence affected your teaching and personal life?”
As always, their answers give us great insight into the minds and hearts of teachers everywhere. This entry is more than just a philosophical question – it is a celebration of teachers by teachers!
Cultivating Life Skills
“I am going to have to go with Ms. Lennish, my senior high school college prep teacher. She was most likely a genius. She could read 300 pages an hour, had read a massive amount of books, and knew just about everything there was to know about language arts. She was very tough! She told us from day one that we would be typing a paper every week for the entire year. She kept her promise. We submitted a TYPED paper every Friday. And, you have to remember, it was with manual typewriters. If it had too many erases or it was smeared, you redid it.
She reviewed the entire grammar textbook in six weeks. We read so many books! At one time, we were reading Macbeth, Great Expectations, a Russian murder mystery novel, and Oedipus Rex! We even wrote a term paper with all the note and bib cards, outlines, and so on. It was an enormous amount of work!
What is interesting is what happened in my first year of college. I took one year of College Language Arts. I never opened a textbook. I aced the classes, completed the term paper in a very short amount of time, did the outline and rough draft in less than two hours, paid someone to type it, and aced it, too. I still have the ability she taught me back then: complete a difficult task and deliver it on time! She was the hardest teacher I ever had, but she taught me the most.”
– James Jones
“My most meaningful teacher was my cooperating teacher when I first student taught. Her husband was a pilot in the military, and she traveled with him, having taught all over the world for the Department of Defense. She instilled in me being proactive rather than reactive in classroom management.”
– Jim Brown
“Mrs. Adler was my third-grade teacher in Cherry Hill, NJ. She was the best teacher and most influential. What made her great was her encouraging words and notes on my creative writing papers. I gained a lot of confidence because of her. I try to remember to always be encouraging and uplifting to my students, even when giving constructive criticism. She was an amazing person. I wish I could tell her how she impacted my life.”
– Dave Shafer
“I had a lot of influential teachers in my life. The one that I always think about was Mr. DeVore, my sixth-grade science teacher. He taught us a lesson about success and failure by teaching us to juggle. It is a lesson that I’ve used many times in my own classroom. He was before his time with PBL and teaching about growth mindset.”
– Jessica Malloy
Leading by Example
“I entered college with no direction or interests to guide me. It was during my required general courses as an undecided major that I experienced real-world learning from two of the most amazing professors. Dr. Black and Dr. Rutledge brought biology and physics alive and fostered my love for science. I think about how many people they have impacted, how many have become educators, and how many people those educators have impacted. What an amazing legacy!”
– Teresia Harrison
“I had so many amazing teachers. However, Mrs. Sunny was by far the most amazing and caring teacher that a student could hope to have as a mentor. Mrs. Sunny taught home economics one, two, and three. Since I attended an all-girls school, it came with the environment. She taught me how to make a tuna casserole for a family of four for under $5.00, how to balance my checkbook to the penny, and how to sew my own clothes with a store-bought pattern. These are all skills that I still use today. . . . I teach my students to go deeper and to reach for some of the things that they want to see in this world. Stop dreaming and start doing!”
– Lisa Lewis
“I am fortunate to have many past and fellow teachers that have left a lasting impression on me. One would have to be Mr. Rohol, who was my high school IB English teacher. I was all right in English (much better at my CAD class), but the content wasn’t what stuck with me. Mr. Rohol would always say, “Alllll right, ladies and gentlemen!” and would, at the end of reading a book such as The Great Gatsby, ask us to ask him a page number and line number and he would quote it perfectly from memory.
But what impressed me the most was that he had his own class websites (before making your own website was a thing) where he would update all of us students on what we needed for the class and upcoming events. This was at a time when taking notes from the old school overhead projector was impressive. That ‘building your classroom/school community’ was important to him, and it’s why I try to do that in my educational practice in my own way.”
– Michael Clark
“My undergrad academic advisor, the late Dr. Jon Olson, and my undergrad research advisor and materials science professor, Dr. Jingguang Chen, are two influential teachers that made a huge impact on my life.
During my first two years at the University of Delaware, I showcased immaturity, excessive partying, ill focus, how to efficiently lose a scholarship, and a complete lack of direction. Dr. Olson was VERY real with me during that time. He never gave up on me, encouraged me to join the undergrad engineering research program, and eventually wrote my graduate school recommendation, where I was able to start turning things around.
Dr. Chen pulled me into his research group and helped me to develop valuable experience and academic connections, despite my established risky background and poor academic reputation. Dr. Chen also played a huge part in getting me into graduate school. I would NOT be where I am today without both of these guys, and I DO believe that where I am has led to the success of at least a few students out there. They also taught me the value of looking past the surface, providing chances, looking for and cultivating potential, and taking appropriate risks with students. I am admittedly a far cry from their example, but it serves as a great reminder.”
– Everton Henriques
“There are many teachers who have influenced me. Most notable are the teachers who encouraged me to become a teacher myself. I was a military spouse and working in my kids’ school as an assistant. The third-grade teacher and principal I worked with saw the potential in me and encouraged me to go back to school to get my teaching degree. Their teaching styles were very different from each other. Now, I find I am very much a mix of the two teaching styles: playful, strict, creative, structured. I’m grateful for their encouragement making me the teacher I am today.”
– Emma Smith
“When I was in high school, I had a math teacher, Mr. Delorenzo, who taught me so much more than just trigonometry. ‘Delo’ was an old, chubby ‘eye-talian’ who reminded me very much of the Godfather. He was quiet and laid back, but just being in his presence commanded this sort of awe and respect. . . .
He called me out one day on my excuses, took me out in the hall, and made me own my mistake. I stood there staring at the ground, tears flowing, expecting the worst (not a boxing match, but a zero on the test and a phone call home). But instead, he hugged me. He was tough, but he was compassionate. . . . I aspire to be just like Delo – excited when the work the kids do leads to success, but not taking any guff along the way.”
– Joe Slifka
“I have been blessed with many amazing educators that have positively influenced my life. Growing up in a household with a 42-year veteran of the classroom, the greatest influence of an educator on my life has been my mom.
She taught second grade in the same classroom, same school, and same district for 42 years! Her passion and dedication to her students, colleagues, and community were unparalleled. She gave everything every day to her students. But, even more amazingly, she was (and still is), always the best mom to my sister and me. Teaching was never a job – it was her passion! She is still teaching, even after ‘retiring,’ because she loves what she does.
I work every day to be one-tenth of the educator my mom has been for nearly 50 years!”
– Natalie Vanderbeck
“I have had many teachers who have had an impact in my life and career, but two teachers come to mind the most. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peters, is the teacher who inspired me to become an elementary teacher. Her class was so much fun, and I learned so much in her class without realizing I was learning. She is also the first teacher who I felt cared about me and all her students as unique individuals in this world. She loved and accepted us for who we were.
The other teacher who helped inspire me to be the teacher I am today was my coworker, Babs Tims. I had the privilege to take a college class from her and, when given the choice to stay in Pittsburg to teach with her, I could not turn down the opportunity. She mentored me through my first eight years of teaching as a coworker and still to this day. She taught me the importance of building relationships with your students and getting to know them outside of school. She is the one who helped me see the importance of STEM and PBL in schools.
I would not be the teacher I am today without these two women and the many other teachers I have had, both good and bad.”
– Adam Brown
“I am sharing my story of one of the most profound, beautiful people that I know. . . . Mrs. Clark was my photography teacher, art teacher, my ‘mother’ at high school. She really has the ability, a gift, to help people feel loved, make their work feel appreciated, and, in a very amazing way, helps you to realize how amazing you are as a person. To be honest, I am not a very good artist. I wasn’t the best at photography. . . .
As I weaved through this class, eventually ending up being a class helper my senior year, I think what I loved about the class was not so much the piece of photography. It was being in a room where you felt special, you felt like you belonged. And, that goes to the power of Mrs. Clark. . . . I went through a couple dark patches in high school. But Mrs. Clark helped me. And, I honestly think I can go so far as to say I think she saved me. Because it was the one safe haven that kept me going many, many days.
I had the opportunity to go back and visit her classroom 15 years after graduating from high school. I had not seen her or talked to her since I graduated. . . . When I walked in the room, she was more beautiful than ever before. And, even though she was in a different classroom, the feeling and the mood and the atmosphere in the room was still the same. These kids came in, and I think they knew that they belonged. They knew that they could create their own journey, create their own art.
And, instantly, within the first 20 minutes, a very powerful moment happened that reminded me of the powerful gift that she has. A student came to her with a project that he had been working on, and he felt that he had messed up in one small piece of his work. And, as opposed to telling him how to fix it, as opposed to letting him know that it wasn’t a mistake, she crafted a conversation in which she was able to give the advice that he needed, but he was able to discover it on his own. And, the entire conversation, even though maybe minimal in the scope and sequence of education because you can't put a test score on it, was awesome.
This kid went back to his desk, and he worked like crazy, and 10 minutes later, he knew that he had something better than he ever thought he would have. And he felt like it was his. The ownership was his. And, all it was, was due to Mrs. Clark, with some subtle, powerful words, helped him rethink and change perspective of what he was doing. That’s the power of Mrs. Clark. She has the ability to do that, not just with art but with life itself. . . . I think that’s the key. She helped us look at perspectives in a different way. . . .”
– Aaron Maurer
“My colleague, Tim Vesco, has been the most inspirational driving force in my teaching career. He is constantly finding ways to motivate the students and staff by keeping things exciting and keeping up with the most recent trends and technologies. I have had the opportunity to attend numerous conferences with him and bring back some highly impactful ideas/practices to benefit our school. You know that teacher that every kid wants to have, every parent wants his or her child to have, and every teacher strives to be like? That’s Tim.”
– Dwayne Taylor
“Currently, we have such a wonderful team in early childhood. We have gone from two classrooms to five in a matter of four years. It is nice to have a full team to work together on goals and activities. We complement each other quite well and the support we offer to each other rolls over into our personal lives, knowing that if we need to step out to be ‘mom,’ we are able to do that.”
– Keri Litewski
“Two teachers had a significant impact on my life and made me the teacher I am today: my geometry teacher and my calculus and trigonometry teacher. These two teachers never made me think that girls were not supposed to be good at math. . . . If we did not understand something in geometry, my geometry teacher would ask us what we liked and find a way to relate it to geometry.
Our goal that year was to try and stump him, but we were not successful. My calculus/trigonometry teacher had such patience. He made sure we understood the concepts and put in many hours after school helping us. I wish I knew how to find them to thank them! I believe because of them I find coding and technology FUN!”
– Susan Gaboriau
“My mom was an elementary school librarian for almost 40 years, and she definitely influenced my passion for children’s books and teaching littles to read. She had books everywhere and was always reading!
I’ve also been grateful for mentors in my professional life who have seen things in me that I didn’t. They encouraged me to present at a conference, apply for that grant, and so on, that I may not have done without their input – at least, not the first time, anyway! I am always looking for gifts and talents I can point out in my students!”
– Chris Gibson
We also asked a few of our staff members to describe a teacher. Sure sounds a lot like the teachers mentioned above, right? It sounds like ALL of you, too!
We celebrate all those educators who make us feel special, help us find the best in ourselves, and inspire us to share our talents with the world. And a special shout-out to all our TAG members! You are invaluable to us!
So, who has inspired you to be your best self? Share your story with us in the comments below – and then go share it with that special inspiration!