Whatever we choose to do with our lives, it all starts with a teacher. If you look back to your school years, you can definitely pick out a teacher who had a profound impact on your life - for good or bad. Some people shared the positive impact a teacher had in their life, and I hope you have had one such teacher in your life too.
1. My high school physics teacher was incredible. Not only did he make physics engaging and fun, easily keeping the attention of the entire class, but he treated the students as adults. On the first day of class he told us that high school should prepare us for college, and that part of that is instilling responsibility. Responsibility implies authority, so we had the authority to choose. He said that although the school mandated attendance, he didn't care if we only showed up on test days, as long as we passed the tests. If we were in class, the only rule was that we could not disrupt the class. You could sleep as long as you didn't snore loudly. If you wanted to talk to a classmate, all you had to do was step out in the hallway with them and you could talk as long as you wished.
The issue is that it is pretty difficult to learn physics on your own, so the more time you spent in class, the easier it was to learn. Although, and maybe because he gave us the freedom to choose, everyone was always in class, alert and paying attention. His engaging teaching style certainly helped, but I'll always remember him as the one teacher who cared about teaching more than just the course material. He taught us actual life lessons. And I'll always remember little pigs drawn on the chalkboard to represent masses and vectors. That silly little detail helped us visualize things so much more easily.
2. I struggled in school most of my life, but in the last 2 years of high school especially, I excelled. Anyway, in 11th grade I rocked out with a 4.0 and thought, ok senior year, AP classes - let's do this! All my life "AP classes" were for the smart kids and I had no place in that classroom, but I was on a confidence high from my junior year so I did it. The first week of AP Micro Econ and I'm in class thinking "what. the. fuck?" I wasn't understanding any of it. After about the 2nd week of just feeling really low about myself, I decided to drop the class and just take regular econ. I go to the teacher after class and my eyes were a little watery and I simply said " I don't think I can take this class". He asked why and I told him, he asked specifically and I went into a little more detail. He said to just give it another week and take it from there. Next day in class, he had put together an entire powerpoint on the items I told him I had the hardest time with. I almost started crying in class when he was going over everything super simplified, I couldn't believe he had put the time and effort into doing that. I was a little self conscious the other kids were maybe annoyed with the repetitive lecture content, but he would make subtle eye contact with me before changing slides to ensure I got it.
After that, I decided to work 3 times harder if I had to or at least invest in myself as much as he did. The class was still hard, but I put in the work and I ultimately passed the class (with a B I think) and it really set the tone to not quit because I don't feel like I belong. I belong wherever I wanted, If I put in the work and earn my keep. Long story short... it had a huge ripple effect on college, grad school and present-day career. He doesn't know the impact he had, I don't think...maybe I should look him up.
3. I never thought I'd go to college growing up. It just didn't seem to be in the cards for me, I didn't like school and didn't have a way to pay for school. I had pretty poor attendance in middle through high school. But I was quiet about this and my high school teachers all expected it of me. Their expectations that I would make something of myself helped me to believe I could. I'm now studying for a PhD in Astrophysics. All you teachers out there, please never stop expecting the best from your students.
4. My high school Chemistry teacher was a chemist that became a teacher after he retired because he was bored and had nothing to do. All the other teachers would make students do paperwork. Every day we did cool experiments. He was a crazy old man and a genius, I really enjoyed hearing him talk. I always showed up to school early so I could ask him questions about the kind of work he used to do. He got me so interested in everything STEM.
5. My history teacher said, "I hope you know your daughter is absolutely brilliant. I mean, annoyingly brilliant, I forget she’s a teenager half the time I’m talking to her because it feels like I’m talking to an anthropology professor." She then looked at me, held up the report card and said "You’re way too smart to be this stupid. You could be an A student easily, you’re just being lazy because you don’t care about your other subjects. You don’t have to care. You just have to do the work."
I’ve never forgotten that. It was the first time anyone had ever thought of me as smart, let alone “anthropology professor” level smart. And she was totally right, I was only an average student because I didn’t give a fuck about the other subjects so I did the bare minimum amount of work to pass. After that, I actually put in the effort and did really well in school, but I’ll never forget that she’s the first teacher who saw past what my grades said, and actually bothered to get to know me. She died 5 years ago, but I miss her very dearly.
6. My High school teacher let me share my shitty, teen angst poetry and gave actual feedback, and took me seriously as a writer. Took time out of his day at lunch and after school. Meant everything. Encouraged me to write more, become a teacher myself... Ironically in math.
7. In high school I was particularly depressed and just had no will to live. Nobody really seemed to care, either. We had to write a poem or something for extra credit and the easiest thing to write about was? My feelings. She didn’t do anything drastic. She simply pulled me aside and told me she cared and gave me a list of resources. I couldn’t use them, but it was the first and only time an adult actually cared about it. I know it’s her job and all, but it still made me feel better. I’m in a much better place but I frequently think about her and hope she’s doing well.
8. Some people might disagree but my Drill Sergeant in basic training definitely qualifies as a teacher, and probably the best I ever had. What he taught me wasn't book smarts, or technical knowledge, or anything like that. He taught me something that I probably couldn't have learned from anywhere else at that point in my life. This guy taught me confidence. He pulled me up from a quiet and under-spoken person to become a leader. He saw something in me that I didn't identify until weeks later when I realized I was a completely different person. From that point on, I've completely taken charge of my life and have been opened up to countless opportunities and I think he is largely to thank.
9. When I was a kid I had a tough home, a dad who was crazy and never there, a mom who was switching out boyfriends like underwear and letting them abuse us kids (mostly my sister, she'd let herself take any damage so I wouldn't, I was a dumb shit and didn't realize it at the time). Anyway, life wasn't going well for me, and I didn't really have friends because who wants to bring someone home when you don't even know who that dude is passed out drunk on your couch while your moms is half naked, snorting shit?
Teacher noticed I was a bit of an outcast, and I used to get into trouble and stuff cause I just didn't care for anything anymore. She paired me up with this other dude who was doing good with classes and she thought it would help, and told him I could use a friend, and insisted we exchange contact info, I didn't want to give him my home phone in case someone weird picked up, but I did give him my email (no cellphones at the time) and it was the best decision I ever made. She insisted I make friends, and if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be where I am now. His family was amazing, let me stay over when I needed to and ended up moving in with them right before high school finished when my mom decided she was moving into this dudes trailer and I didn't want to move, so they suggested I stay with them and helped me out.
If she had never looked out for me, asked me if I was okay, and how the home was, I never would have made the changes in my life that I did. Teachers that look out for their students are the best.
10. When I was in high school, I loved art. I wanted my life to be full of creating art and drawing things. During Art class, the teacher went around and asked what we wanted to do as a profession. I proudly stated that I wanna be a comic book artist or any kind of artist. That's when she dropped the bomb on me and flat out told me "You can draw and paint well but there's a good chance you're not good enough to make it in art". It was such a blow to the chest and everybody I tell that story to is fuming with anger but it's the best thing a teacher has done for me. She knocked me into reality and today I love art and creating but as a hobby. I'm much happier this way and it takes all the pressure off needing to provide a living whenever I'm creating something.
Teachers have to deal with a lot of students, so it might become hard for them to keep a track of everything that goes on in a student's life - it's almost impossible. But if you are a teacher, maybe this can serve as a reminder of how the littlest thing you do has the power to have a lasting impact on your students' lives. One that they will remember for days to come.