Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from the Alliance for Excellent Education
May 10, 2012 04:42 pm
From May 7 to May 11, America is celebrating an extremely important week: National Teacher Appreciation Week. This past Tuesday, May 8, was National Teacher Day.
At the Alliance for Excellent Education, we think every week should be one during which we are especially appreciative of our teachers, but we think it’s great that this week is designated to sit back and reflect on the impact that teachers have on our lives and the lives of students across the country.
Our staff here at the Alliance have all been influenced and inspired by many great teachers. Here are some of staff members’ thoughts on the educators that have helped to shape them the most. As well, we provide you with tweets from celebrities as they show their love and appreciation for educators.
Maria Voles Ferguson, Vice President of Policy
I am one of those lucky people who remember many great teachers when I look back on my academic life. But if I have to choose that one special teacher it would have to be Mr. Rosenthal, my 6th grade homeroom teacher. Although middle school is traditionally a time filled with angst and growing pains and lots of drama, my middle schools years the best years of my K-12 life. I think Mr. Rosenthal had a lot to do with that. Abe Rosenthal was an older man with a heavy New York accent and thick black-rimmed glasses. It was the early 1970’s and for my sisters and me, growing up in a traditional New York Italian household, things were pretty much as they had always been: dads went to work; moms stayed home, girls helped around the house. Mr. Rosenthal was really the first teacher who made me think about what my life outside of my home and my family might look like. He made me think about what my academic life could do for me and what I could accomplish if I worked hard and developed myself intellectually. In short, he was the first person besides my parents who made me feel like I was smart and had something to offer. And I believed him.
At the end of the school year, Mr. Rosenthal gave me a gift: a plaque with the classic IBM motto “THINK” written in large capital letters. That plaque has adorned every desk I have ever sat at since leaving Mr. Rosenthal’s class. I am looking at it as I write this. Simple advice from a great teacher that has been with me for more years than I will ever admit publicly (wink). Thanks, Mr. Rosenthal, and thanks to all of the great teachers who work hard and inspire kids every day. We appreciate you more than you know!
Bob Rothman, Senior Fellow
For many people, 1968 was a traumatic year (the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, a worsening and divisive war), but I will always remember that year fondly, because that was the year I entered Miss Marguerite Curry’s fifth grade class. Miss Curry (all my elementary teachers were Misses) was small with perfectly coiffed white hair, and she spoke with a quiet authority that kept everyone’s attention. And she lit a fire in me that burns to this day.
She encouraged us to learn on our own by writing short pieces about historical figures—and in doing so, introduced us to the greatness of diversity in American history. She engaged us in direct democracy by holding a campaign and election for class officers. She involved everyone, even the shyest of us, in a play about history.
In all of her efforts, Miss Curry was the opposite of the stern authority figures who taught us in earlier grades. The summer after fifth grade, she went to Ireland and sent us postcards—the first I ever received from a teacher (I remember she noted that she stayed in the same hotel as Fred MacMurray). And she was the only teacher I returned to visit.
Whenever I read about American history, which I do often, there’s a little Miss Curry in me. Thanks.
Terri Schwartzbeck, Senior Policy Associate
While I never sat in his classroom, the teacher who had the most powerful impact on my life is definitely my dad. After retiring from twenty years as a Naval officer, my dad went back to his original game plan before he joined the Navy: to be a math teacher. I saw the power of lifelong learning as he went back to school and got a Master’s in educational administration, then completed his student teaching years. His values about education came from his mother, a first-generation Italian-American in New York who continued to take courses and earn degrees throughout her life. He accepted no nonsense; he set high standards for his students. He was appointed to be a Dean of Discipline in his school and set up Saturday school for students who needed extra learning time. Once, while I was in college, I happened to be in a diner near the high school he was teaching in. I struck up a conversation with the waitress, who was a teenager; it emerged that she attended his school. So, of course, I had to ask, did she know my dad? “Mr. D is your dad? I’m SO SORRY!” she said with sympathy and horror. Was he hard on her? Yes, he said, she sleeps in class all the time. Makes sense, because I was in that diner at 2:00 am, and the young woman was working the night shift. On a Tuesday.
Later, when I went on to graduate school to study education policy, he was my sounding board for crazy ideas; when I started my first job in DC he was able to fill me in on what the policies we worked so hard on in the nations’ capital really looked like on the ground. He continues to inspire me today as he is on his third career as a sports official, showing me what life can look like when you do what you love and love what you do. I know he made a difference in the lives of many of his students, but the impact he had on my ideas about education is never far from my mind.
Jenny Cline, Office Assistant
Mrs. Norma Jean Buck…I remember you so well because of your kindness to me. It’s only natural for me to want to return it back to you.
College was a very special time in my life. I was going through “growing pains,” if you will. I didn’t know how I was going to afford college, keep up my GPA, work three part-time jobs, give back to the college by doing extra curricular activities (what blessings Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Unity Club were), make friends, and SLEEP. Did I leave anything out?
I can remember the rinse-and-repeat process when I would get home from work at 8:00 at night after a full day of classes, write papers until two or four in the morning, and then wake up at 7:00am just to make it to school on time. To make things more complicated, I changed my major during my junior year, took on two minors, moved off campus and had a 45 minute commute. Seriously, I still don’t know how I did it, but that’s where you came in…
I mention all of this because, during that time of my life that was full of uncertainty, I was comforted all the while by your support and that of professors Nancy Marter and Dale Sauers. Yes, friends fueled my strength to keep going and family helped me believe that it was possible. Though, I need you to know that it was your undeserved kindness and encouragement as the years passed that convinced me that there was someone at that school who was in my corner, rooting for me, who had my back. Your words became ingrained in my mind as a silent mentor.
Even to this day, you continue to keep in contact with me. You remind me that someone from my past believes in me and knows that my future comes to fruition with each passing day full of infinite possibility. I love you and thank you for the warmth that truly resonates in your emails and the phone conversations we’ve shared. As I grow older, move further from home, and embrace new and emerging dynamics of my life, I am reminded to hang on to my old ties…the root of my strength. To thank you for just being you, I will honor you in my memories. I promise to remember you and hope that we remain in touch over the years.
Jessica Cardichon, Director of Federal Advocacy
The teacher who by far had the most significant impact on my education was Mr. Decker (a.k.a “D minus Decker”, which was odd because he only gave whole letter grades). Mr. Decker taught 11th Grade “English B”, as opposed to “English A” for the really smart kids or “English C” for the kids who were considered not at smart as A or B. As you can see, my school had a really subtle way of letting you know what they thought of your abilities at the time, but I digress.
Mr. Decker was unlike any other teacher I had ever had for two reasons. The first was the structure of his class. Our grade was based primarily on one paper we had the entire second semester to work on. This was the late 80s, so no internet access or fancy computers, I had a word processor at the time, which I would work on while listening to my Walkman. There was a tremendous amount of freedom that we were given to complete this project. Although he would check in, I was completely responsible for setting my own goals, timeline, approach to research, etc., a completely different structure than my other classes with daily homework and frequent tests or papers to create structure. It truly prepared me for what would be ahead of me in college and career. Although everyone knew we were the “B” class, he made it very clear that he expected us to produce the same work as if we were in an “A” class, that what mattered above anything else was the quality of work we produced and that we ourselves needed to be the best measure of that. This approach and structure allowed us to define what we expected of ourselves and how we were going to get there, to not let anyone outside of ourselves be responsible for either increasing or limiting what we expected of ourselves.
Second, he was the only teacher I had in high school who ran office hours like a professor. He encouraged us to stop by at any time if we wanted to discuss the books that we were reading, either for his class or outside his class. It was the first time I had the opportunity to have a one on one conversation about a piece of literature and how I was responding to it. It made me think about engaging with literature as something beyond the classroom, as part of life, something to discuss, to reflect on, and take ownership over. These were lessons that were reaffirmed in college, but Mr. Decker was the first teacher I had who made me feel more in control of my own education and the expectations I set for myself. I felt as though he valued my individual education, not just the class as a whole. I have had many wonderful teachers who provided me with a great education, but Mr. Decker is always the first person who comes to my mind when I think about what an excellent teacher should be.
Bill DeBaun, Policy and Advocacy Assistant
I have an embarrassment of riches when I think about the tremendous educators who have impacted me as a student and person. Although I could probably write odes to about a dozen teachers, I’ll restrict myself to the two below.
My 8th grade social studies teacher, Ms. Christy Viszoki, instilled a passion for civics and public policy in me that set me on the path I’m on now and brought me to Washington, DC for college and career. Social studies with Ms. Viszoki wasn’t a torrent of facts, figures, and dates, it was an exercise in critical thinking and understanding how and why events unfolded the way that they did and what the significance of that how and why was for society. Ms. Viszoki was the advisor for three of my New Jersey History Day projects. These taught me not only research skills but also helped me to make even more connections between past events and present issues. The final project, on the New Jersey State Supreme Court case Abbott v. Burke ultimately made me realize that education policy was the field for me. Lastly, as I was a rather outspoken student, Ms. Viszoki engaged me in conversation and debate, challenged my views and beliefs, and opened me up to new perspectives; more than once (though probably not much more) I may have even conceded that I was wrong. That making this concession was okay and not shameful was probably one of the more important lessons I have ever learned.
Mr. Matt DeFilippis (affectionately known to all of his students as “D”) was my history and government teacher, as well as extracurricular advisor, throughout high school. Contained within his tomes of notes were anecdotes, sidebars, and bits of historical arcana that engaged me and made history come alive. As one of the most good-natured men I have ever met, D endured our Type A complaints about reading load, papers, and tests with his trademark chuckle or a wry remark and a shake of his head. I spent all of my time between classes in D’s classroom, making jokes and trying to soak up the stories and bits of wisdom that he’d drop during conversations. Underneath the good humor and sarcasm, however, was a man with a deep passion for teaching, a commitment to his students, and an ability to change or challenge deep-seated views. Our eight person AP Government seminar was an experience I still remember fondly as one that prepared me for college and fanned the flames of my passion for what governments do, why, and how. I owe D for his guidance, advice, and patience, the last of which I tested every single day, but very seldom exceeded, for four years.