Remembering the Teachers Who Impacted My Life

scrabble letters appreciating teachers


I often think about the impact we make on others: through our words, actions, etc. For quite some time, I’ve thought about my teachers and how much I enjoyed being in their classes. I did go back and thank my third-grade teacher in person. (She was teaching third grade!) Overall, I had good experiences, and most left me with memories and lessons I still remember. (Oddly enough, I can barely remember the names of any of my professors.)

Kindergarten – have no clue – I had fun, spent time with my daycare lady, and learned about “Mr. M – munchy mouth” and the other letters. I was introduced to “projectors.”

1st – Ms. Rayford – Our classroom was a trailer next to the school. I clapped erasers, got to use the pencil sharpener, and had my own desk. Hey, I was six. LOL! I don’t remember lessons.

2nd – Mrs. Rohrbach –  I remember reading groups, thinking my friend’s brother was cute (he was older…in 4th grade), and computer time. Oh! And popcorn in class on some Fridays. I learned to count to ten in Japanese and tried new foods while learning about other cultures.

3rd – Mrs. Hogue – I learned my multiplication tables because I earned M&M’s during “Around the World” drills with classmates. I began cursive. This was my first year at a Christian school. Many of the verses I remember today go back as far as 3rd – 5th grade memorization and songs.

4th – Mr. Lovelace – Boggle, C.S. Lewis, and track. If we got a perfect score on our spelling tests on Friday, we could play Boggle with Mr. Lovelace the next week instead of writing our words 10 times each. (I own Boggle and play Word Blitz and other games today because of those matches.) He read “Chronicles of Narnia” to us during downtime. We were allowed to wear culottes. I joined the team of runners and participated in my first track competition because I thought I was fast. During the meet, I discovered I wasn’t.


boggle game


Mrs. Erickson – afterschool teacher – She taught me how to play Chinese Checkers by beating me. I got better and can’t remember the last time I lost a game. We actually had educational toys, but we didn’t know that at the time. I learned that you get better at something by being around those who are better or know more than you.

5th – Mrs. Brackett – I learned to sing two songs in sign language: “I Love You, Lord” and “To Be Like Jesus.” (Although I think I learned them from the bus driver’s daughter, Rachel). Mrs. Brackett was a smiler and just seemed like a happy person.

6th – Mr. Portlock – math teacher. Quote that sat on his desk was something about being hard to soar with the eagles when you’re hanging with turkeys…or chickens…or some farm bird. I looked at it as a reminder to focus on the goal and not get stuck hanging around people who didn’t want to go anywhere.

(Edited to clarify: I was in 6th grade for two months before being moved to 7th that November.)

7th – Mr. Harris – Social studies – first bell; I discovered I like history, saw several movies like “Gone with the Wind,” and learned just how difficult it is to pick cotton by hand. He’d brought in a cotton plant to give us an idea of the challenges of slave labor. It gave me a deeper understanding of one of the hardships endured.
– Ms. Bzdek (Byzdek?) – concert choir – I was introduced to various types of music, including singing other songs in harmony as warmups. (This was fun to 11-year-old me.) I learned several psalms (ex. Psalm 100) and African-American spirituals this year since district chorus performances often included them. I had solos, too.
– Ms. Alfonsi – Honors English – I think I get the memory of her appearance confused with my physics teacher. Both had thick curly brown hair like Cher. I remember our room arrangement would change regularly. I liked it, especially since few classes allowed us to face each other to interact. The story that stands out to me for the entire year is “The Scarlet Letter.” We might have seen a show about it, but the idea of wearing an “A” on her chest going through town just stuck in my memory. I did enjoy the class though.
– Coach DeLong and Ms. Ra – track team. You’d think I’d learn that I wasn’t fast. LOL! They were kind enough to let me participate and train with the others. At one time, I considered hurdles, long jump, and high jump, but the whole tripping thing deterred me.

8th – Mr. Dennis – Algebra – “What’s that got to do with the price of butter in Denmark?” – This was his quote. I used to wonder how much butter cost that he felt the need to bring it up so often. He was fashionable in the sense that he made his own style that broke the conventional rules. I think I would hear him as if he was saying, “Concentrate on what’s important.” I got an A in his class.
– Ms. Toliver – chorus – That woman had patience. She was funny, and she knew how to work with preteens whose voices changed during the year. (We had a boy go from singing soprano to bass in one semester.) I discovered that we could sing for points at competitions at amusement parks. Yeah, sign me up! (We got “superior” ratings.)
– Mrs. Buffington –Honors English – “merry, marry, Mary” – Apparently, these words are pronounced differently in the south South. (I’m not southern enough. I say them all the same way.) I don’t know what it was about this woman and her teaching style that made me really like English, but it was the first time I remember wanting to read from the literature textbook. Things that stood out more than other works: “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Mrs. Haversham.”

9th – Ms. Toliver – I was in chorus every year.
– I did have a teacher who gave the impression that she would skip all things related to African-American history (ex. she decided she didn’t want to talk about the chapter on Africa so that she could focus on her interests). I can remember her name, but I didn’t interact with her after I transferred classes. I believe I was the only Black student in the class for that bell, so staying would have been quite uncomfortable.

10th – Mrs. Duvall – chemistry – Honestly, no matter how many times I took it, I hated the subject. (Oddly enough, I got a 91% on the PCAT  for chemistry when I applied to pharmacy school.) However, I enjoyed converting, solving equations, and titration. In addition to chemistry, she introduced me to English muffins, plain popcorn (you enjoy any snack you can get during class), and how young men should escort young women up and down the stairs. I never would have guessed etiquette lessons would be included. I thought it was cool. 
– Mr. McGrath – Honors English – When asked about my favorite teachers, his name is probably the first to come to mind. I discovered the most growth in my writing in this class. We had a writing exercise almost every day. The most important thing I learned from him is what I apply in my creative writing: “Use your words to paint a story.” It was like a world of rainbows, meadows, and musical notes opened in my mind.

11th – math analysis – Let me just say that a dismissive comment spoken in a way to embarrass or insult a student who has asked you for assistance can shut down a student in multiple ways. The treatment I received in this class and the school’s response was the deciding factor for why I transferred in my senior year. I barely passed pre-calculus. However, I took calculus the following year, received college credit, and took two more semesters of calculus after that.
– Ms. Norris – U. S. History – She was the first person I ever met that made me wonder if she was part of a motorcycle gang. I think it was the leather. I enjoyed her class. Something about her personality, straight-forward style, and wit made it easy to learn. Standout lesson: the strength of the two-party system.
– Mrs. Lewis – Honors English – sweet, soft-spoken lady – To this day, I have no idea what happened between third and fourth nine weeks, but I went from barely being able to focus to looking forward to the next book and quiz. I want to say she had made a point to tell me that I did well on a test. I finished that semester with an “A.” Story that stands out most for the year: “My Antonia.”

12th – Mrs. Johnson – Honors English – She refused to allow us to be lazy in writing or speaking. What I remember most from the assignments is vocabulary. I think we had a quiz every week. The lesson I remember most was the strength it takes to hold your head high to be yourself in a world full of people following trends and trying to be liked.


teacher with students seated outdoors


Of course, there were other things I learned, and I appreciated my other teachers. I never had a “favorite” elementary teacher, but I listed them (as well as the others) because they came to mind so clearly as I thought about teacher appreciation. As I was writing, it dawned on me that most of the teachers I remember by name are in English, the area in which I refused to major.

If I had to narrow it down, I’d still say my favorite subjects were math (Algebra I/II, Calculus), science (AP Biology, AP Physics), and history (U.S. & AP European). Music is a category by itself. My favorite teachers taught English, and Mr. McGrath stands out more than anyone else. I believe the reason I appreciated them was because the other subjects were easier for me to learn. English seemed so subjective and felt like it would change if I blinked. I realize that it was the encouragement they offered when they saw that I was trying. They acknowledged what I got correct while explaining what was incorrect. Those little notes at the top of my paper or the comments during class made me want to do more. I wanted to study more because they noticed and affirmed my efforts.

It’s these lasting memories that remind me of the impact we have on those around us, especially children. I hope that, even with mistakes I’ve made, those who have been in my care will look back on our time together and feel as if they’ve gained something from their time with me. I don’t remember where I heard this quote, but it goes “You will be remembered for the problems you create or the problems you solve.” I hope that my overall impact is a positive and productive one.



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