May 4, 2021
For this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we gathered thoughts from our team on teachers in their lives that made a particular impact, and will be sharing them with you over the course of this week. Our second post features thoughts from our team members. See the first post here.
My fourth-grade classroom in rural Moore County, North Carolina could either be accessed by outside stairs or a “secret passageway” behind the library. Of course, that’s not all that made it special — I have fond memories of my teacher, Ms. Fox, who made learning the most fun. In her class, I dressed up as an archaeologist on career day, created a holiday robot in science class, and wore a suit to play the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Fourth Grade Wax Museum. She also helped us through the tough stuff. She shielded us from the horrors of 9/11, mediated disagreements between nine-year-olds, and helped us through our frustrations with the confusing concept of long division.
Becoming a teacher myself really changed the way I viewed many of my own teachers and the daily work they put in to consistently provide rigorous and engaging lesson materials. At my high school, all of our honors level history courses were taught online by Ms. Shirlie Gaskins, and included students from three of the four high schools in Duplin County. This was back in the mid-2000s when remote instruction was far from the norm nationally, much less in rural Eastern North Carolina. Despite the fact that I never received direct in-person instruction from her, and that my classmates weren’t even always in the same school site much less in the same class period as me, she had an uncanny ability to develop a strong sense of community within our classes based on our collective passion for history and her consistently high expectations for each of us. Beyond honing my passion for history that led me to become a social studies teacher, her classes really honed my ability as a critical thinker and forced me to develop a number of real world and professional skills that I still use daily.
This year has revealed the powerful role teachers have played in my life; not only while I was in the classroom, but years after. In middle school, my sister Glenn and I were both in the center-based gifted (CBG) program and were incredibly lucky to have wonderful teachers who invested their time in our growth and well-being. From participating in exciting science experiments in Ms. Estes’ class to learning to love math in Mr. McEwen’s class, my teachers in the program made learning incredibly fun and engaging. Their contributions to shaping my life, however, go beyond learning. My teachers in the program created environments that made it easy for me to make new friends, and many of those friendships have lasted (I get to see one of those good friends get married next month). Most importantly, those teachers were there for me in a time of grief. Following my dad’s recent passing, I received a series of letters from several teachers in the CBG program and Ms. Unger (my 3rd grade teacher) telling me that Glenn and I were on their minds, and that they are here to support us in this tragic time. In that moment, I learned that teachers not only play that pivotal role in shaping your educational experiences; they stay in your lives for years after you leave that classroom. That they took the time to reach out to Glenn and me years after we left Robious Middle School to express their condolences was an incredible gesture, and it shows what great people they are. Take time to thank your teachers for their time and service to all of us; I certainly don’t know where I would be without them.
Throughout my arts education in high school, I had the great pleasure of taking numerous courses under the study of Dr. Euler – an incredibly knowledgeable, passionate, and delightfully eccentric instructor. She commanded every class with an infectiously vivacious energy that made every art class the highlight of my day. She almost single-handedly lit the creative spark for the arts that I can thank for my design career today.
I had a number of teachers who greatly influenced my life and led me on a course to becoming a teacher myself. Someone who had a great impact on my own teaching career was Mrs. Margi Goldstein, my mentor teacher in my intern year. She was dedicated to her craft and students and it influenced how I approached my own teaching practice and how I viewed each student as an individual with unlimited potential, just as she did.
I was blessed to receive my education in Person County Schools! I had so many wonderful teachers, it is really hard for me to pick just one. So, this year, I give honor and praise to all of the teachers at Helena Elementary School, Southern Jr. High School, and Person High School from 1981-1994. Your love, dedication, and instructional prowess gave me hope and encouraged me to reach for the stars. THANK YOU for finding value in me, helping me to knock down barriers, and opening doors that would have otherwise been left shut. Because of you, educating others is my superpower!!
Although I have had the good fortune to learn from many great educators, the number one influence has been my mom, Ms. Nancy Zbyszinski, a 40-year veteran kindergarten teacher. I grew up volunteering in her classroom, participating in every aspect, ranging from beginning of the year preparations, organizing the learning centers (her classroom looked just like the one in the movie Kindergarten Cop – equipped with a dramatic play loft and all!), and classroom volunteering (the best times were Rodeo Days and end of the year concert programs). I remember her kindergarten classroom being the happiest, most welcoming, and nurturing environment. It made learning hands-on, fun, and engaging. Children succeeded and loved to be in school. Ms. Zbyszinski recognized children’s needs, strengths, and the endless possibilities of developmentally appropriate practices. Observing her teaching practices taught me far more than any higher education course and is the reason I have made early childhood education policy a career. Every child should have an early learning experience like Ms. Zbyszinski’s class.