It seems I have struck quite the nerve with the American public regarding school supplies and the education system. Clearly, our education system could be regarded as ‘broken’. What I think everyone needs to remember is this: Teachers can make or break a child’s future. Why not support them in order to support the future of our communities? I am living proof of influential teachers and I want to talk about my experiences with exceptional teachers and substandard teachers.
First, let me say for the record that I had a lot of great teachers throughout my years. There are a few, though, that absolutely changed the course of my future. There are also two in particular that almost derailed my future. They, for the sake of this article, will remain nameless. The others and their impacts, I’m going to give them the credit they deserve here, and hope their names go viral like my EXPO post.
First up: Jane Mansueto. I have no idea where she is now, if she is teaching or not, but this is the teacher, who to this day, I would care about her opinion of me. Ms. Mansueto taught my gifted class in junior high. There were only seven of us in this class, four boys and three girls and, I think all of us can attest that our futures were being formed and molded within that classroom. She would make our papers ‘bleed’ with red ink, challenge our thinking, and push us to think more and outside of the box. I had always loved learning, but under her instruction, we all thrived.
Here is the factor that always makes me come back to her: it wasn’t just the facts and numbers she taught that made her a good teacher. Around this time, I started to struggle with a severe form of anorexia as a result of ongoing sexual abuse. Any given day that I walked into her classroom, I was on the cusp of cracking. She gave me hope and structure through teaching that I needed to keep moving forward, a skill I still utilize to this day.
Next up: two really, really godawful teachers to me. Until high school, I was a straight A student. During high school, I was raped. After dealing with sexual abuse, anorexia, and then rape, I was broken. I’m sure you can imagine that education was the last thing I cared about. My grades went from A’s to D’s and C’s. A good teacher probably would have asked if something needed to be addressed. One told me that I was ‘hopeless’ and that education didn’t seem to be my ‘thing’. Another one, constantly gave me a hard time throughout that year, and when I saw that teacher years later, while I was in college, told me he was surprised that I even went to college and thought he figured I would just end up someone’s trophy wife. I’m pretty sure I had to pick up my jaw up from the concrete I was standing on. It’s a fortunate thing I have sass-mouth (as the ones I love affectionately call it) and a defiant streak that runs deep.
The teacher that taught me that learning was fun was Julie Edwards. She taught drama at the high school I went to and I’m not going to lie, I was a hot mess while I was a student of hers. That said, she always listened, encouraged, and smiled at me. Right after high school, she saw me smoking with my best friend. To this day, if I ran into her, I’m pretty sure she would make a signal of a cigarette to remind me that she knows my secret.
Once in college, I had a wonderful history teacher, and her name escapes me. Nevertheless, I was never a fan of history until I went to her class. She taught history through stories, not just facts. I have been a history nut ever since. Because of that teacher, I started taking history classes as my electives, which brings me to Dr. Bill Pederson.
Dr. Pederson is one of the greatest living experts on Abraham Lincoln. He’s written books and given too many lectures to count on him. Dr. Pederson is a grumpy, grumpy, GRUMPY old man, and hands down my favorite professor. I went to do a summer semester in Washington, D.C. under his instruction. Before dawn, we were seeing, doing, attending lectures and doing research until the sun set. One night, I had the privilege with one of my classmates to attend a private lecture he gave with a co-author of one of his books. Only a handful of people were there, maybe fifty, and afterwards we were able to have a private viewing of the Constitution. This was one of those pivotal moments in my life. The hairs on my arm stood on end as we discussed the aging document in front of us, and I realized that he saw me as a student, not someone’s future ‘trophy wife’. During that conversation, he told me that I had ‘so much potential’, and I know in hindsight how valuable that belief in me was to molding my future.
Teachers are our thankless heroes. Sometimes, they are the only constant in our lives when chaos reigns and we have no hope. They can show us sides of ourselves we didn’t know existed, or are scared to face. They can show us talents we didn’t know we had and steer us in a direction we never thought possible. So, thank a teacher, hug a teacher, support a teacher, and for God’s sake, buy the large packs of the EXPO markers when you are given the chance.