Teacher Appreciation

Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions. – Unknown

It’s teacher appreciation week and I want to give some shoutouts to the teachers who helped me along.

I can’t talk about teachers without mentioning my parents. My dad was a junior high math teacher, and my mom was a high school business teacher. Both ended up teaching at schools I attended and let me tell you being “the teacher’s kid” is not a lot of fun. But I survived and people still tell me stories about how my parents helped them.

My first-grade teacher, Miss Lange, had a physical disability. It was unusual back then to have a teacher with a disability, but she managed it, and us, beautifully. At the time I probably wasn’t cognizant of the fact she was teaching me to be accepting of people who were different than myself or that I was learning about resilience. It wasn’t like she said any of that out loud. It was her first year of teaching first grade and she went on to teach for forty more years.

Mrs. Kibbie, my third-grade teacher was a life saver. I’d gone from the top reading group in first grade to the bottom reading group in second. (My second-grade teacher was a disaster and I have stories that would chill you, but that is all for another day.) Mrs. Kibby knew I was struggling with reading and started sending home extra reading homework. Some of my classmates saw the book I was taking home and made fun of me. But because of Mrs. Kibby and my parents, by the end of the year I was back in the top reading group and my love of reading was restored. I can’t imagine how different my life might have been without her.

Mr. Castro was my seventh-grade Spanish teacher and my homeroom teacher. He was young, handsome, and managed to teach us Spanish. (Yes, I can still sing Jingle Bells in Spanish. Who knows? Someday that might come in handy.) On the last day of school, Mr. Castro told us he’d been drafted and was heading to Vietnam. It was the first time the war had become more than headlines. All the girls cried, and the boys had shocked looks on their faces. Mr. Castro survived and went on to teach many more years.

Mr. Kuhl (I probably spelled his name wrong) was my junior high speech teacher. He was a fun and interesting teacher, but something he said always stuck with me. He told me I picked unusual topics for a girl. This was after speeches about the Mafia and the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t think he meant it unkindly, but it was an early lesson in how women were viewed. But he also picked me to emcee a big school program and I got a part in one of the school plays. I was The Girl in The Storm. Those things taught me confidence.

Mr. Stedwell

Mr. Stedwell was my high school journalism teacher, and the man in charge of the newspaper and yearbook staff. God bless him. He was young – just out of college. I worked on the yearbook for two years, first as the index editor and then as editor-in-chief. It taught me how to work with different groups of people, how to be organized, and how great finishing a project felt. There were tears to be dried and encouragement to be given, he managed it all with patience, and laughter. That man put up with a lot of shenanigans!

Me as Editor-in-Chief

Jim Thomas taught one of my college literature and creative writing courses. The man smoked nonfiltered Camel cigarettes in class even when they opened a new no-smoking building. I did an independent study with him on American writers and learned to see beyond the words on the page. I still remember reading Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and delving into the light, shadows, and dark in the story with him.

And finally, Dr. Ruth Towne, my college history professor, and the sponsor of my sorority. She pulled me aside once and told me I wasn’t living up to my potential. She was absolutely right. I was more interested in going to fraternity parties than classes. I’d like to say that comment straightened me out right away, but it didn’t. However, it always stuck with me and for the rest of my life when I’ve accomplished something, I think of her.

I was lucky to have many great teachers — more than I could name here.

Readers: Did you have a teacher that made an impact on your life?

30 Thoughts

  1. What a wonderful set of mentors, Sherry! We had two blind teachers in my high school. I think they both taught math. Like you with your first grade teacher, seeing and learning from them taught me by example how much people can do. Mrs. Samniego would come in on a Monday and say she’d been water skiing, and then then get to the lesson at hand.

  2. Impressive list of those who influenced your life, Sherry! Like a pebble tossed in still waters, we never know where a ripple of wisdom will nudge us into action. Thanks for the excellent reminder.

  3. My fifth grade teacher is the one that stands out the most to me. It was my first man teacher, but he made learning fun. It was because of him that math clicked. That alone is a fact that I deeply appreciate.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. Setting aside my parents who taught me a lot as I grew up, I can’t think of a specific teacher who made such an impact on my life that I’d mention them here.

    Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of teachers I liked (when I didn’t hate school of course) and that did a good job of teaching me whatever subject I was in their class to learn about. Except French, that was a disaster of epic proportions. But there isn’t one I would say became SO important to my life, if that makes sense.

    But the one person who taught me a lot, encouraged me when others discouraged or laughed at me and was great to learn from is a man named Tony Dias. He was a coach in the youth basketball league I played in as a kid. I didn’t have him as a coach but he was the first one to have an undefeated team.

    I was NOT a good player by any stretch of the imagination. I knew what to do, but couldn’t do it. But I wanted to be a coach when I got older and I told anyone who’d listen that dream. They all shined me on, not really taking me seriously. Everyone that is but Mr. Dias. He encouraged me to go for it if that was what I wanted.

    Fast forward to three years into my “career” as a head coach and my team was in the finals. I saw Tony in the stands and went over to thank him for encouraging me all those years ago.

    A few years later, I had some burnout and became an assistant to another coach. His other assistant was Tony. We won the championship that first year.

    A couple years after that, the head coach retired. I took on the head coaching job again and Tony paid me the ultimate compliment and became my assistant. We would go on to win another title together.

    Tony was an old school coach. He didn’t coddle players at all. But you learned from him even if you didn’t think you were doing so. I learned so much from him myself.

    Tony died many years ago now and I still think of him. While his son gave the eulogy at his funeral, I wrote an appreciation of him that was published in the local paper. The family saw it and one said it was even better than his son’s eulogy.

    Tony taught me a lot and I spent the entire time I coached hopefully carry those subtle lessons over in some way, shape or form.

  5. It’s great to hear you had so many teachers who made a positive impact on you, Sherry! My mom was a teacher and my younger kiddo has one more year to go in college to get his teaching license. Three cheers to teachers!

  6. I had some good teachers and a few bad ones (the worst was Sister Mary Gertrude in first grade). The best teacher I had was Mr. Titus in sixth grade. He treated us like adults, called us by our last names, and gave us our first essay tests. He taught Geography and History. We even had a unit on communism where we read 1984. About twenty years ago I went to a grade school reunion and he was there. His first comment to me? “Oliphant, you don’t look any different.” LOL

  7. I had a variety of teachers who stick out, some good, some bad. A few in particular:

    – Mr. Eggleston, my Regents (then AP) chemistry teacher, who made science fun – and let me in to an AP class despite my not being qualified (I hadn’t taken the requisite math courses) because “he knew I could do it.”

    – Mr. Taylor, who we all called Brother Taylor, my senior year AP English Teacher. I got a very low grade my first quarter and wanted to drop the class because “maybe I’m not good enough after all.” He told me that was nonsense, the only thing “not good enough” was my work ethic. I finished the class with a 97.

    – Professor Keenan, a college English professor who taught me a lot, but maybe the most valuable lesson came out of his Research Methods class: Finding the answer is not as important as the quality of the search.

    – Dr. Tedesco, head of the English department and my advisor/mentor, who told me as a freshman I needed to relax before I had a heart attack at the age of 18 and upon graduation told me he couldn’t wait to see where I went in life.

  8. I was such a nerd in elementary school, and was teased mercilessly, including by a lot of the nuns. However, I had a wonderful 3rd grade lay teacher, Mrs. App, who gave me a sense of self-worth. My fifth grade teacher was the one nun, with the apt name of Sr. Charmain, who was kind to me. But the best was my English teacher, Mr. DeWolfe, in HS. He helped develop my writing and speech skills, and encouraged me to read beyond normal sophomore reading material. And, in a long, roundabout way, it was through him that I met the man who eventually became my husband with whom I will soon celebrate 47 years of marriage.

  9. I should also mention that, like Sherry, I had a disastrous 2nd grade teacher, another nun. I’ll match you for chilling stories. However, I did have some great college profs who taught me so much more than whatever class they were teaching. It helped that I was non-traditional, older student.

  10. Oh, yes, Mrs. Frierman immediately comes to mind. She was my third grade teacher. We were her first job after graduation and she was a fabulous teacher. We stayed in touch – via letter – until I went to college. My high school English teacher, Sister Marie Therese had a huge impact on my life. She was the first to have faith in my writing and give me encouragement. We lost touch after I left high school, and I had tried for the past fifteen years to track her down through the motherhouse so I could thank her for all that she did for me. I discovered last year through a random internet search that she had passed away, but I hope she knows how grateful I am to her.

  11. I was also a teacher’s kid, my mother taught high school math in the school I attended. My father wasn’t a teacher, but we had many teachers, from pre school to college, in the family, so it wasn’t a surprise when I went back to finish college in my 40’s to become a high school teacher of English and creative writing. I had many wonderful teachers throughout my life and a few terrible ones, but will focus on 2 from college. I fell in love with medieval literature as an undergraduate and took Chaucer classes from 2 different professors. One would sit on top of the desk and ask us what we thought of the reading, leading to a discussion with very few moves to the chalkboard. The other would start at one end of the very long chalkboard and write his way to the other end, then back to the first end erasing & writing new notes. These were both wonderful teachers, one became my undergraduate advisor & the other my graduate advisor, and they taught me that there isn’t one right way to teach.

  12. Hi Sherry. What a great post for Teacher Appreciation week. I had a number of wonderful teachers–from grammar school through college. And a few real clunkers–but they were very small in number compared to the good and the greats,

  13. I had a great English teacher, Mrs. Hill, in the eighth grade. Everything I know about grammar and spelling I learned from her. I still bless her every day.

  14. My 7th grade math teacher Mr. Reed. This is a little long, but… In 7th grade I was in the standard math class and bored to tears. So I would have a book in the shelf under my desk and read it during class. Yes – always an avid reader.
    One day, I was clearly totally engrossed in my book, as it turns out he stopped teaching, walked around the edges of the room with the whole class watching him and the oblivious me, came up behind me and snatched the book away from me! Yikes. Note: I totally agree with what he did.
    After class when I went to get the book back from him, he talked to me adult to ‘eventual adult’. He said he knew I was bored in class but there were other students that really needed to learn this and to take it seriously. My reading gave the impression that class wasn’t important, and he needed me to pay attention to help reinforce that what he was teaching was important. The exact words are really lost to memory, but not the Way he talked to me and explained why paying attention in class was important to all of us.
    I’ve never forgotten that, and the way that a teacher can give an important message to a student.
    I did keep reading, but never again in class!

  15. I have two. I was in 5th grade. The class was a split 5th/6th grade class. The teacher realized that I was bored with the 5th grade work. She would give me some of the 6th grade work to do so I was not bored.

    The second teacher taught English Lit. She saw a shy girl who was afraid to spread her wings. I ended up with the girls lead in the school play. She was a wonderful teacher who brought literature to life.

    Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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