Two Stories of Lifetime Impacts on Student Lives

Teachers matter. They are more than talking heads on a computer screen regurgitating instructional material to memorize for a test. They are Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, the people who inspire and enlighten and change us in a lasting and fundamental way.

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My Robin Williams announced his retirement as a classroom teacher. This person came to our school with fresh ideas and taught my English class with props like Weird Al to introduce us to satire. We wrote thought-provoking essays about a wide range of topics, and in the process learned about both the world and how to construct papers. Later he served as the faculty advisor for the writer’s club and gave structure to our meetings, writing prompts, critique groups, and a literary magazine. He invited us to his home at the end of the year for a picnic, and we read our work to his wife. She made burgers for a motley group of poets and prose writers.

During my senior year, my parents split up, and I went through a bad time for awhile. This teacher saw I was in trouble and took me aside for counseling. I don’t remember the words anymore, only the feeling of being seen, of being not alone.

People who know me also know this teacher’s name. He’s an integral part of my story, part of my writing life, part of who I’ve become. We continued to stay in touch during my college years, but I fell away until social media reunited us and others from high school. He blogs wonderful articles about education and other topics.

In my book Straight A’s, you see a fictional glimpse of him in this story. The student and teacher have the same relationship through the writer’s club, and ultimately, that teacher has an equally significant and lifelong impact on the student’s life in the book.

Teachers matter beyond the classroom. Teachers like mine give us the self-confidence to use education and move forward into the world, to believe in ourselves, and to be encouraged. When that kind of feedback is missing at home for whatever reason, a charismatic teacher can be the only person who gives it. For the right student, this kind of attention from one caring adult is all it takes to make them soar.

I was one of the lucky kids. I had multiple good teachers in my life. They made a difference in multiple ways—some of which had nothing to do with my GPA—and I’m grateful to every single one.

What about you? Do you have any stories about great teachers in your life? Like or share them in comments.