With this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week wrapping up, we offer some of the stories we’ve received from readers about memorable teachers. The theme? Teachers you’ve changed your mind about.
This week and last, we’ve been collecting teacher tales to share during Teacher Appreciation Week. First, we asked our co-workers. Then, we asked you to submit your answers to this question: What teacher have you changed your mind about?
Here’s what you had to say. (Responses have been lightly edited.)
Mr. D’s double life
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan you’ve never heard of, and there I had a history teacher, Mr. D. He was a great motivational teacher, always assigning us creative and inspired projects. We did a re-enactment of the Dred Scott trial, I dressed up as a Revolutionary War soldier and brought in my great-grandpa’s bayonet. I figured Mr. D was the most cheerful and dedicated teacher in our school. In a place where it was normal for teachers to wear jeans and a button-down, he was always crisp in slacks and a tie. He was known for using cheesy phrases like “close, but no bananas” when we answered a question wrong.
He lived in a different school district from mine — another small town in Northern Michigan you’ve never heard of, and the one where his daughter attended school. During my freshman year of college at Michigan State, I met his daughter and her friends for the first time. During one of my first conversations with them, as we were discovering our mutual acquaintances, it was bound to come up that they all knew my beloved history teacher.
We still laugh today at my horrified reaction when I learned that Mr. D’s favorite activity of an evening was to strip down to undershirt and shorts, light a cigar, and drink a beer on the back porch.
Apparently he swore like a sailor, too.
— Valerie Van Tine
But is it sixth-grade crazy?
Ms. Kelly Hedrick’s sixth-grade class at White Oaks Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia, was supposed to prepare us for the grueling rigor of middle school. We labored over writing in the “expository” style, exhausted the scientific method, and read and performed Shakespeare plays none of us understood. I remember being consistently behind on homework, acting out in class, and receiving poor grades. We learned to type properly, and were expected to hammer out sentences while looking straight ahead at a screen, and NOT at the keyboard. I stopped playing basketball after school with the hoop in my driveway, my weekly street-hockey game folded, and I counted down the days to vacations. But come seventh grade at Robinson Middle School, I was ready. Come to think of it, I was ready for high school two years later, and my transition to college didn’t seem as rocky as my friends’ either. Ms. Kelly Hedrick taught us to work — to put our heads down and complete tasks, write paragraphs, and finish things. When things are crazy at work these days, I pause, think about Ms Hedrick, and wonder how it compares to the sixth grade.
— Adam Gardner
It’s about the learning, not the grade
Throughout my early academic years there was no feeling more rewarding than receiving an A+. I felt fulfilled when teachers praised me. So, naturally, in high school I had a singular goal in mind: a 4.0 GPA. During my first year at Governor John R. Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash., I took AP World History with Mr. Hodous in 2012. As this class was of a much higher caliber than my previous classes I struggled when I received grades that did not meet my standard. After school, I would chat with Mr. Hodous concerning my “low” grades,” with a stressed tone in my voice. Calmly, he would smile, as if he’s heard this story before, and say that the path to improving my grade was one in which my focus had to shift away from the grade. Instead, he instructed me to concentrate on “the learning.” Of course, this frustrated me at first but eventually I appreciated his words and my perspective on education changed. Since then, that mentality has helped me succeed at the University of Washington by teaching me to pursue the understanding and accumulation of knowledge, rather than merely how such knowledge will earn me a score.
— Kara Patajo
Taking the time for bench warmers
I was always the undersized, bookish kid, routinely picked last for teams. I avoided athletics whenever I could and hung back when I couldn’t. That changed when I encountered Coach Tony Higgins. At the end of my first semester sophomore PE class, the coach told me and another student that we would each be getting a D. He set up an appointment for us with the Special Ed PE teacher so we could consider transferring. I decided to stick with the regular class, but now, I threw myself into it. I was still small and uncoordinated but at the end of the semester I earned a B. Most PE teachers have no time for the bench warmers, but Coach Higgins encouraged me.
That gave me enough confidence to turn out for both track and diving. I lettered in both.
Thanks to the challenge and subsequent encouragement by Coach Higgins, I learned to enjoy athletic activities. I’m still no star but have started and finished two marathons and run dozens of long-distance races. Last spring my wife and I hiked over 500 miles across northern Spain. Fortunately, Tony Higgins took an interest and gave me a lifelong appreciation for athletic activity.
— Dennis Brooke
Profanity breeds compassion
In first grade I went through almost all of the routine childhood illnesses and a kidney infection. With an accumulation of absences, I had to stay inside at recess and make up work. I resented this, but at least I wasn’t alone. My teacher, Helen Schnell, stayed inside too, and caught up on her work. One day she slammed a fist down on her desk, on a page on which she was writing, and cursed under her breath. It was the first time I had ever heard a teacher curse, and this was 1961, when cussing in public was much less common. I looked at her — every strand of the silver hair piled on top of her head perfectly placed — and realized she was actually flustered, just as I was for missing recess and having to make up work. She was so flustered she didn’t notice me staring at her. She became human to me then, and for the rest of the year I realized she was a dedicated and very good teacher. She helped me tremendously as I struggled through my illnesses.
— John Streamas
‘C’ for effort
In 1975 I entered Seattle Central Community College with a desire to earn an AA and then move on to the University of Washington. Much to my horror I discovered that I was required to take a college-level math class. Throughout all my school years I barely scraped by in math. I did well in any other subject, but I couldn’t get past basic algebra or geometry, and when anyone mentioned calculus my eyes would glaze over and I’d run from the room.
The math professor at Seattle Central immediately recognized my dilemma. He was a fairly young man, a bit of a nerd, but perhaps since he was on the young side he remembered some struggles he may have had. Unfortunately, it was so long ago that I don’t remember his name. All I do know is that he sat with me after class day after day and if he couldn’t, he had an advanced student sit with me. They all tried their hardest to stuff that darn math into my head.
It didn’t work. I took my exams, ecstatic that I finally understood. I didn’t. I would get to the end of the problem with very logical (I thought) steps and every time I would be wrong. This happened the entire semester.
At the end of our time together he took me aside and said, “I’m going to pass you because I know you want to move on to the UW and you need to pass this class. You’ve given it your all, but frankly I think in whatever you choose to do you won’t need more math.” I guess he was giving me a ‘C’ for effort.
I’m forever grateful to that young professor. If he hadn’t passed me I may have given up on my dream to graduate from the UW. I did graduate in 1980 with a BA in history. He’s right. I never had to take another math class.
It’s funny because for many years I’ve been a bookkeeper. Thank goodness early on for an understanding professor and later on for QuickBooks.
— Raven Dunn