As Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, I thought it would be a good time to pay homage to some teachers from my own past who have helped make me the educator (and person) that I am today. It’s highly probable that none of them will ever read this. But it’s important to honor the folks who made you who you are, and those who pushed you to do more and reach higher along the way.
Here’s a short look at four educators from my past who, to this day, inspire my work…
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy (1st and 2nd Grade, Webster Elementary)
Room 16 was a warm and happy place. And Mrs. O’Shaughnessy was the reason why. She loved her students and, looking back, worked hard to help us all. First and second grades were great fun, but also a time where I was encouraged to explore and create. I remember when she brought in some dying houseplants and let me and some others work to try to figure out ways to bring them back to health.
Mrs. Wagner (5th Grade, Webster Elementary)
It’s no coincidence that one of my favorite grades as a student, fifth, is one of my favorite grades to teach. I remember every book Mrs. Wagner ever read us. (Voyage of the Mimi anyone?) And I remember how she encouraged us to explore topics that interested us, giving us time to explore new things and learn what we wanted to learn. Designing a bus trip to Alaska was one thing I did. I was fascinated with the 49th state and she brought in some books and let me run wild.
Mr. Richardson (TAG Coordinator, 10th-12th Grade Pontiac Central High School)
The TAG (Talented and Gifted) Program at my high school, for me, was a lifesaver. High school was a rough time for me. I always felt like my school just didn’t have much to offer me. It was easy to slip through the cracks there. Mr. Richardson fought against this, providing as many kids as he could with opportunities to explore things outside of school. It’s possible he was an ed tech pioneer, too, because he facilitated the first “distance education” class I ever took. I don’t even think “distance education” was a phrase back then. He also helped me spend most of my senior year off campus, taking classes for free at the local community college. And on top of all that, if I (or any student) was having a tough day, he was there to listen, empathize, and help. Mr. Richardson cared more than I knew at the time. I’ll be working to match his level of commitment for the rest of my career.
Dr. Bigler (professor, Eastern Michigan University)
To say that Mary Bigler’s passion is helping kids discover the love of reading would be the greatest understatement of all time. In her reading methods class, she showed undergraduate pre-service teachers how important it is to commit yourself to this cause. But not only did she talk about how she had done it in her work, she showed us great ways to do it ourselves. Even now, 12 years into my own teaching career, the course pack from her class is still a go-to resource. Dr. Bigler is a master storyteller (her tale of being perhaps the only person to repeat a “Tap Dance for Beginners” class was epic) and anyone who hears her speak or present is guaranteed to be better for it. She taught me so many things about teaching reading, things that are easy to forget in these days of high stakes testing. But they were lessons that I carry with me to this day. I work hard to emulate her passion for reading, and I believe my students reap the benefits of all that she taught me.
It’s important that all educators feel appreciated. Not just during this week, but all year round. However, I feel it’s also important for all educators to reflect and appreciate those who helped us, those who made us who we are today. We all have stories like mine, I’m sure. Take the time today to think about them, and give thanks to the teachers that poured their hearts into teaching you.