In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we rounded up some favorite stories from Team Bellwether about our most influential teachers — the ones who held us to high standards, challenged us, and led by example. These educators helped inspire us to build careers ensuring today’s K-12 students have the mentors, role models, and opportunities they deserve.
Here’s to working with education organizations to create a culture where teachers are supported and appreciated each and every day.
“I have had teachers who were influential because they were great and those who were influential because they were awful. Among the great was my 11th grade English Literature and Composition teacher. Mrs. I. was enormously intimidating, very severe looking, always put together, rarely smiling. Over her door as you entered her classroom was a giant sign reading ‘Choices cause consequences.’ It was her unforgiving grading policy that led to my strong adherence to the rules of English grammar (comma splice: -20 points), but it was her genuine love of English literature that inspired me to be an English major and later an English teacher.
Mrs. I. let us in on the secrets of Shakespeare by explaining all the double entendres, exhorting us to appreciate the fact that he was writing for his audience in the pit and that they liked dirty jokes. I can still hear her exclaiming, ‘Shakespeare was bawdy people, bawdy!’ in her deep southern accent.
Among the awful was my high school calculus teacher. He genuinely thought girls were innately bad at math. So he counseled me not to take the AP Calculus exam because it would be a waste of money. I was nearly as stubborn then as I am now, and when someone tells me I shouldn’t or can’t do something, I want to do it more than anything. So I studied like crazy for that test, and I passed it. He was actually shocked. It was very satisfying.”
“My most influential teachers were the ones I let down. Every teacher who told me that I could do better was right. It made me feel both seen — how else would he know I could be better? — and believed in.
Those moments were really hard but they are the ones I always go back to.”
“Ms. C. taught English at my high school, and also led the creative writing elective. I took creative writing for two semesters, writing poems, screenplays, essays, and short prose. If it weren’t for that class, I’m not sure I’d be a professional writer today. Ms. C. took me seriously, encouraging me to revise pieces and submit them to grant competitions. At a school assembly, she asked me to perform one of her poems out loud. Her creative writing class was one of the few I excelled in — I was mostly an underachiever in high school but Ms. C. never judged. She just encouraged. She still teaches at the same school, and I know students are lucky to have her. She remains a friend and mentor to this day.”
“I had a history teacher in high school who never accepted excuses. If you told him you couldn’t hand in a paper because your computer was broken, he said he would be happy to accept handwritten work. Kids were afraid to take his classes, but I sought them out. Those of us who were in his classroom really benefited from the experience — he believed in education as a tool to expand the mind and held students to very high standards. His passion for history and ability to make stories come alive fueled my own love for history, which has lasted to this day.”
“Mrs. D. was my 7th grade algebra teacher. She had a reputation for being extremely demanding and maybe a little mean. She only assigned the “hard” problems in the problem set — you could do the easy ones if you needed to, but only got credit for the hard ones…
My parents enrolled me in 7th grade algebra against the advice of my 6th grade teacher. I wasn’t a strong student in 6th grade because I was easily distracted by friends, attempting to be popular, etc. Plus I had moved to Maryland from West Virginia and I did not have strong fundamentals in math.
On the second or third day of 7th grade, Mrs. D. pulled me aside (I don’t remember the circumstances but I suspect I was not paying attention) and told me that she knew I was smart and that she would not put up with anything less than excellence from me.
It was enough. I was obsessed with meeting her expectations. I studied math 2-3 hours a day, every day (this is how I learned to work hard and study — I had never really done so before). My dad came home early from his demanding job to help me a few nights a week at my request.
After our first unit exams, she handed back our papers, admonishing the class for how poorly we did. Except one student got a 100%. That student was me.
Mrs. D.’s lesson lasted. In 7th grade I became a very strong student, especially in math. That gave me the confidence to get through middle school with my head held high, despite braces, glasses, and unfortunate fashion choices.
Years later, I learned she had been sick that year and taught through her illness, coming to school even on days when she had treatments. We stayed in touch for years, and I was thrilled to have her at my wedding.”