PBS in the Classroom

The Power of Teachers: Ordinary People Can Change the World

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The teacher who changed my life didn’t do it by encouraging her students to stand on their desks, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society. Or by toting a baseball bat through the halls, like Principal Clark in Lean on Me. She did it in a much simpler way: by telling me I was good at something.

When I met Ms. Sheila Spicer, I was in the ninth grade and had just moved to Florida from Brooklyn. Most of my teachers at Highland Oaks Junior High seemed to look past me; I was one more student among hundreds. Ms. Spicer, however, took a special interest.

“You can write,” she said, explaining that she wanted to move me into the honors English class. But because of scheduling conflicts, transferring wasn’t an option. So instead, Ms. Spicer told me to ignore everything she wrote on the blackboard for the rest of the year. “Ignore the discussions. Ignore the assignments. You’re going to sit here and do the honors work.” And with those words, she changed the course of my life.

As a writer, I’ve studied many of the great heroes in history. I also have kids of my own, and as my kids grew up, I didn’t want them to look up to reality TV stars and people who were famous for being famous. I wanted my kids to understand what real heroes were: people like Ms. Spicer, who dedicated her life to inspiring others. People like Rosa Parks and Marie Curie, Sacagawea and Martin Luther King, Jr.

And so I started writing non-fiction children’s books. I began with I AM AMELIA EARHART, to teach my daughter the value of courage and bravery. Then I wrote I AM ABRAHAM LINCOLN, to teach my son about the importance of using your voice to speak up for someone who needs help. Today, the Ordinary People Change the World series is one of the most successful children’s series in the last decade.

But I knew I could do more. That’s why I’m so proud that kids everywhere will soon be able to learn from PBS KIDS’ newest series XAVIER RIDDLE AND THE SECRET MUSEUM, based on my books. The show will introduce today’s kids to the heroes of the past, and help them tackle challenges in their own lives. In addition to the show, we’ll have a dedicated collection of resources on PBS LearningMedia, to bring these life lessons into the classroom. I hope that XAVIER will give kids that same gift Ms. Spicer gave me: the power to believe that anything is possible, and the conviction that they already have everything they need to succeed.

When my first novel was published, I went back to Ms. Spicer’s classroom and knocked on the door. “Can I help you?” she asked, trying to place me. I’d had a lot more hair the last time we saw each other. “My name is Brad Meltzer,” I said, handing her a copy of my book. “And I wrote this for you.” Ms. Spicer began to cry. She’d been considering early retirement, she said, because she felt she wasn’t having enough of an impact on her students.

I didn’t know how to make Ms. Spicer understand what she’d done for me: Thanks to her, I fell in love with Shakespeare. I learned how to compose an essay. It was her belief in me that gave me the confidence to become a writer. And it was her example that first taught me that ordinary people can, indeed, change the world. 

Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer Author

Brad Meltzer is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of thrillers like The Escape Artist, non-fiction books like The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, gift books like Heroes for My Son and Heroes for My Daughter, and of course, the Ordinary People Change the World series. He also helped find the missing 9/11 flag with his History Channel television show Brad Meltzer’s Lost History.

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