May 6, 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 third post features thoughts from our team members. See the first post here and the second post here.
I grew up in a home that loved and appreciated art, a love that was fostered and encouraged by my mother, who was an elementary art teacher (now retired). In high school, amidst the high pressure academic coursework where I focused on taking as many Advanced Placement courses as possible to improve my class ranking, I had two art teachers who offered space not only for creative enrichment, but also for mental and emotional health and support. Julie Sagur and Erin Becker Stesch clearly cared deeply about each one of their students and offered me, in particular, compassion and support when I needed it, as well as encouragement and constructive feedback. Their care and instruction improved my skills not only in art, but also in communication, compassion and empathy, and leadership. They went out of their way and added additional work to their own plates to ensure that I could stay on track to take art throughout my high school career, and their support and investment directly led to my election as Co-President of the National Art Honor Society. My happiest high school memories are in their classrooms, connected by a conjoining door, and they remain important people in my life today – Julie continues to support my art by calling on me to calligraphy the graduation certificates at her current school each year, and I plan to volunteer in Erin’s new classroom as soon as it’s safe.
My high school history teacher knew how much I did not like history and she would go entirely out of her way to try to make it fun for me by bringing in treats and finding ways to make the class more fun through competition, and in the end I got the highest score possible on the AP exam. She really knew how to make learning fun.
I attended Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in Cabarrus County and in fifth grade my teacher was Mrs. Ames. She was passionate about teaching and brought amazing energy and humor to our classroom. We had a beta fish as our classroom pet – it lived in a glass coffee carafe instead of a bowl and was appropriately named Java. I won our school spelling bee and was so nervous to complete in the countywide bee. Mrs. Ames promised me she would come to watch me compete, and I was so relieved when I looked out and saw her in the audience. I got knocked out in the second round (and still second-guess myself when trying to spell “pilgrim”), but I will never forget how much it meant that Mrs. Ames went out of her way to support me.
I entered kindergarten in my rural public school in Western North Carolina as an eager first-generation four-year-old, who didn’t speak a word of English. My teacher, Ms. Walters, was patient, caring, and empathetic towards me, consistently nurturing my curiosities and a newfound love of reading. I remember being one of the only kindergartners to earn enough AR reading points to go to an end-of-the-year pizza party and jumping for joying and hugging Ms. Walters. She was the reason I loved school and learning, and I know she built the foundation for the rest of my schooling. Ms. Walters even attended my high school graduation, taking pictures and cheering as I crossed the stage. Teachers like her make a difference in the lives of students, and I am so lucky to have had such an amazing teacher.
My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Biondi, was big on encouraging her students to write. I would write stories and poems in my free time because she made writing so much fun. She asked me if she could submit one of my poems for a chance to get published, and it did! I still have that poetry book to this day.
Few people know that in the first grade I had trouble reading on grade level. I was at risk of falling behind in class and it was a stressful time for me and my family until I met Miss Ayanee. Miss Ayanee was my reading recovery teacher and my first Black teacher at P.S. 87 in Manhattan. She and I met every day for at least two hours, and we practiced reading with stories about Harlem, Langston Hughes, and Jackie Robinson. All that I am I trace back to those gentle hours with the lovely woman who took a special interest in making sure I could read stories and one day write my own.
Mrs. Susan Mobley was my journalism teacher for all four years of high school. Up to that point, I had never had an instructor for more than a year. Because of our long relationship, Mrs. Mobley was a witness to my personal and academic growth unlike any prior teacher, and she served as a mentor and guide to me. She was the first teacher who treated me like an “adult,” and she allowed me the opportunity to think through my own decisions and develop my own values system. When I was struggling, she gave me her cell phone number when I needed to chat (which was a big deal in the late 1990s). I am forever thankful for the impact she had on helping me grow into a young adult. The skills I developed as a result of knowing her are still with me today.