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Editor’s Note: In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked our Teachers’ Lounge contributors this question: Who inspired you to become a teacher? These 21 responses offer little gems of teaching wisdom – and a lot of love. This piece originally appeared on May 2, 2017, but we find the shelf life to be long.
My junior year high school U.S. history teacher, along with my college advisor, were the greatest influences on my decision to enter teaching. Both were passionate about their craft and were able to use the events of the time – the 1970s – to excite their students about the subjects they taught. I think of them often when I am trying to develop lessons that will engage my students in their study of American history.
One person who inspired me to go into education was my mom. When we arrived in Canada, it was difficult for her to find employment as an English language learner, so she went to school and worked hard to improve her skills. I would sit with her to explain assignments and homework, and she would work tirelessly to complete them on her own. My mother’s perseverance and dedication inspired me to go into education and help make the lives of English language learners easier.
Two teachers stand out – not for inspiring me to become a teacher (I sorted that out myself), but as inspirations for the type of teacher I want to be. Both Mr. Rittner, my AP European History teacher in high school, and Professor Cummings, my thesis advisor in college, inspired me to be a better student. They encouraged me to develop my curiosity. They were rigorous editors who challenged me to develop arguments and explain my thinking. They introduced me to the excitement of lively academic discussions. I think about both of them every day.
If I am being totally honest, my becoming a teacher has more to do with what others saw in me than what I saw in myself. At City Honors School in Buffalo, New York, my high school English teacher, James Duggan, looked past the wise-cracking troublemaker and saw someone who could be a positive influence in other people’s lives. I spent 20 years in the Air Force learning to be a leader and a role model. When I retired, an old friend from high school who had become a teacher, Nancy Munson Ellis, encouraged me to take all my life experiences and use them in the most challenging but rewarding profession in the world. I had been working toward becoming a teacher my whole life, even when I did not realize it.
Anne La Pietra
One of my inspirations to go into teaching was my art teacher Mrs. Hassebrock. She taught me that I had valuable opinions as a high schooler. I took an art class every semester with her because she created a fun and safe environment that made me feel like I was awesome and had potential in life. Mrs. Hassebrock inspired me to have fun and to pursue a career that I am passionate about.
My hard-working Philly cop Dad and I never were able to connect through the usual topics of sports or music. However, he always captivated me with his stories about Hannibal, the Civil War or World War II. His way of telling stories – both hysterical and somber – made me want to share these same experiences with others. I went into teaching in order to make my father proud of me but also to share who he was with future generations. Although we lost my dad to ALS, I know that I share a piece of him each and every day when I make my students laugh and when I see their faces light up during fascinating stories.
I always had a love for math and science; it was a language, a way of being, that helped me to understand the world around me. When I was in high school, I had two wonderful science teachers who recognized my interest in the subject and also saw in me a knack for explaining complex relationships to others. They arranged for me to act as a teaching assistant for their science classes, setting up labs and working with students. It was as a result of their mentorship that I knew that I wanted to teach science.
My learners, who teach me something new every day and treat me to a daily belly laugh, inspire me. Everyone has the right to a meaningful and relevant education in an inspiring environment. Without this goal, we truly are lost.
My middle school and high school friends were so often mean to teachers, but they were discerning. They relentlessly hassled teachers who did not believe in all of their students, who pre-judged them based on clothes or looks or those teachers who had favorites or who engaged in power struggles with students. Conversely, they thrived in environments where they were respected. While they did not inspire me to become a teacher, necessarily, they taught me all I needed to know about making sure that I communicated respect to every kid who walked through my door from day one to day 180.
Little did I know as a fourth grader with poor self-esteem who had been placed in the slow learners’ part of the class that I would one day become an elementary school teacher. Mrs. Stagger never made me feel inferior, or that I was incapable of learning. She made me believe anything I did was possible. Each step I took was with her support and encouragement. I began to learn, with a willing attitude, that a whole world was just waiting to be explored. As a first-year fourth-grade teacher, I began to understand that I wanted to be just like Mrs. Stagger.
My Ed school professor for Methods of Teaching Social Studies was Dr. Stanley Diamond. When he arranged student teaching placements, I was sure I would be sent to an AP history teacher. I was disconcerted to be assigned to a remedial 10th grade “core” team. When I first met Mrs. Bernice Lockwood, my supervising teacher, I was even more disappointed. She looked like Miss Grundy – white hair, lace up pumps, a silk dress 50 years removed from fashion. Well, it turned out that Mrs. Lockwood was a truly innovative, exceptional teacher. We worked for hours after the classes ended to evaluate and plan creative units and effective interventions. I loved it. I was hooked.
I didn’t come to teaching all at once. While working on my history degree, I spent a lot of time volunteering and working with young people in the community where I grew up in Spokane, Washington. The more I mentored and worked with young people, the more I realized that, along with my education as an historian, this was the most fulfilling part of my life. This is what prompted me to pursue education as a career. It’s also what keeps me excited about the profession year in and year out.
I was already a teacher when I met Dr. Chris Emdin, the author of “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Ya’ll Too,” but he inspired me to become fearless while teaching for social justice. His commitment to young people showed me that integrity, humility and hope are three of the greatest principles a person can possess. The most important lessons Chris taught me happened outside the classroom. While I respect him as an educator, I admire him most in his roles as father, husband and spiritual role model. How we live teaches others more than we could ever say in words.
When I think about why I became a teacher, I think of three teachers in 8th grade at my Catholic K-8 school: Chris Corrigan, Peter Mundy and David McSpadden. They taught me the value of hard work and, just as important, a sense of humor. Both lessons have shaped who I am, and I hope to pass them on in my own classes today.
My senior year English teacher adeptly employed ‘differentiation’ before it became a buzzword. Sitting in my literature class, I poured over Stephen King and the Bronte sisters; I paid no attention to my classmates’ choices. One day, I spied a senior enthralled by “Little House on the Prairie.” I noticed that everyone had a different book and everyone was enjoying reading, and I realized that my teacher had purposefully done that. This moment showed me that sharing a love of reading with older students was possible, and even necessary.
I have been lucky to have many mentors in my life who have led me down the path to becoming a teacher. However the one person who truly made the mark was my U.S. history and AP European history teacher Ruth Wilkoff. Her demeanor, her wit and her way of teaching drew me into the world of history which inspired me to become the kind of teacher that she was. When it came time to start my student teaching, I moved to a closer college to become her student teacher, so I could learn even more from her. Twenty-eight years later, she is with me in my mind, my lesson planning, my teaching and my grading.
My position as a school resource officer (SRO) combines two of my favorite things – law enforcement and education. I found that I enjoyed talking to college students about how to be safe and responsible. I did not think my presentations were taken seriously until I continued to receive requests to speak about things like party dangers and sexual assault. I brought this idea of crime prevention education with me to high school classrooms. I can’t say I was inspired by any one individual to become a SRO, but I have been influenced by the positive feedback from students I meet in my role as teacher, as opposed to my law enforcement role.
I would like to thank Mr. Kent Brant for opening doors to discoveries. He was my first male teacher in 4th grade. Mr. Brant loaned me his Texas Instruments computer to learn programming, played football with us at recess, organized my first overnight field trip at a nature center and collaborated with Vickie Weiss and NASA to bring Space Camp to us. All of these experiences inspired me to be the teacher that I have become. Mr. Brant continues to inspire middle school science students in Grand Blanc, Michigan, with his passion and innovation.
I come from a family of educators, which is maybe why I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps when it came to career choice. Little did I know they’d be my inspiration for working with young people. I went off to college without a major and yes, ended up taking classes in the college of education. I completed my student teaching with an A+ and found it truly was my calling. I later got a masters degree in school counseling, also not intending to go into the counseling field, and yet here I am, a school counselor. What can I say? I love the education field.
Jon, one of my best friends from my hometown, inspired me to go into teaching. He and I were in Boy Scouts together, both as scouts and as leaders. He commented how great I was with teaching the scouts their various skills. He described how patient I was with them, and he could see how I really enjoyed working with them. Those few words sparked something inside me, and I switched majors from electrical engineering to education.
I’d always been the pupil stuck in the middle of the class. That all changed when I started to go to Mrs. Kellett’s Latin class. Rather than looking at a dead language, we were living the greatest stories the world had to tell. That was it, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to know more and that I wanted to give others the chance, too.
The PBS NewsHour’s Teachers’ Lounge blog, written by teachers or school-related staff, gives the public a glimpse into how current events affect life inside schools.
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Victoria Pasquantonio is education producer at PBS NewsHour. She taught middle and high school social studies and English for many years and heads up NewsHour Extra, NewsHour's teacher resource website.
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