Readers share stories of who influenced them … and how.
For the Heart of the Home section for the September/October issue, we asked readers to share their memories of inspirational teachers and/or classmates.
Though we were not twins, my brother, Charles, was my classmate for 15 years. He began school in 1928 in kindergarten, although back then it was called primer. In those days, primer students were expected to learn to read, write and do most of what isn’t taught until first grade now.
Charles brought his reader home every day, and Mother struggled with helping him. He didn’t talk until he was 2, and reading was difficult for him. I, however, learned quickly while hovering over the two of them.
The next year, when I was 4, my mother took me to the school and told the teacher, Miss Erma, that I could read. Miss Erma tested me, and I exceeded her expectations, so she told my mother she was going to put me in first grade with Charles.
I was small and a little scared, so I was happy that Charles would be with me. By the time we got to high school, I had lost my shyness. While Charles excelled in math, I did much better in reading.
When graduation day neared, Charles was named valedictorian, and I was named salutatorian. Charles teased me a lot, and I’ll admit I was a little jealous, but more than anything, I was very proud of him. He had taken to math like a duck to water, and those A+ grades pulled him ahead of me.
We left for college together, both of us working to help pay our way. World War II began while we were in junior college, and Charles left for the Air Corps. His math skills really paid off, because he soon became an officer and a navigator. It was then that I realized what a treasure I’d had all those years, and I felt lost without him.
After the war, we resumed our college educations and eventually became teachers.
We’re both in our mid-80s now, and every time I think of this story, it reminds me of the book The Tortoise and the Hare.
Lyn - Magee, Mississippi
I was only 4 years old when I started school in September 1938. Like many schools, the one I attended didn’t have kindergarten, so I went straight into first grade.
The school had two classrooms with four grades in each room. I had a wonderful teacher, and I owe a lot to her for the good start she gave me. She taught her students to read, write and understand arithmetic. She also taught us valuable rules in learning phonics and pronunciation. Because of her, I became an excellent reader and a good speller. She also put a lot of emphasis on penmanship and cursive writing.
In addition, she always complimented us on our accomplishments, and by doing so, she made us want to keep working to achieve more.
I’ve always been intrigued with words and the challenge of putting them together to form poetry. I’m 75 years old now, and I still love to write.
I know it was my first-grade teacher who created the love of learning in me. She gave me an eagerness and desire to learn, and I praise her for that, because it has carried me through life.
Mary - Topeka, Kansas
When my family moved in 1933, I began attending a new school. I was in fifth grade, and Crystal was in sixth. Having a handicap of sorts in common, we quickly became good friends.
I had abnormal hip sockets, and Crystal had bone tuberculosis that she contracted when she fractured her left arm. She held her arm close to her body as if it were in a sling, because if anything bumped or jarred it, a horrible shooting pain ran through her arm.
Jumping rope was a favorite recess activity at our school. However, because of my hips and Crystal’s arm, neither of us could jump. Since the other kids would rather jump than turn the rope, Crystal and I turned the rope. It was the perfect way for us to be included in an activity we could otherwise not have participated in.
While the other kids played rougher games we couldn’t play, Crystal and I would sit and talk. Through those talks, Crystal taught me many techniques to help minimize my handicap. She also helped me learn how to ignore all but the most severe pain, how to be grateful for my blessings, how to keep smiling and how to live as though I wasn’t handicapped. She was truly an inspiration to me.
Crystal has since passed away, but I am reminded of her every day as I live a full and happy life as though I’m not handicapped. I have gone hiking in several countries, and I still go places and do things that many women my age don’t do anymore. Every year or so, I travel the many miles to the area where I grew up. While there, I visit family and friends, and I make a trip to the cemetery, where I pause at the graves of loved ones. I always visit Crystal’s grave and thank her for her friendship and all the lessons she taught me.
People often tell me I’m an inspiration to them. I’m just thankful for all the people who have helped me along the way, and Crystal was one of the most inspirational of those people.
Geraldene - Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Who would have thought my high-school algebra teacher, Mrs. Barrett, could employ a unique teaching method that would have a profound effect on my life, as well as the lives of my children and grandchildren?
On our first day of school, Mrs. Barrett told everyone in her freshman algebra class that she would not tolerate the word “can’t.” Instead, she wanted us to say, “I’m not sure I can do that, but I’ll try.” Naturally, we didn’t take her seriously, until one day in class when a boy was having trouble solving an algebra problem.
Frustrated, he said, “Mrs. Barrett, I can’t do it.” Her smiling face melted into an unfamiliar frown, and she asked, “Are you sure that’s what you meant to say?” The boy suddenly remembered her rule and stammered, “No, ma’am, I meant to say I don’t think I can solve the problem, but I’ll try.” He gave it another try, and with a little gentle assistance from Mrs. Barrett, he solved it.
During the weeks that followed, we all discovered that by using the “I’ll try” attitude, solutions to problems really did get worked out. Mrs. Barrett soon became our favorite teacher. She made the class challenging, as well as fun.
I soon began applying her rule to all my classes, as well as to the sometimes difficult chores I had at home, and I couldn’t believe the difference it made.
Years later, when my husband and I were blessed with two sons, we taught them as toddlers to say “I’ll try” instead of “I can’t.” They, in turn, have now taught their children those same magical words, and to think it all started with a loving, dedicated algebra teacher.
Fay - San Diego
My sixth-grade teacher, Minnie Wild, was a beautiful writer who taught her students good cursive writing skills.
My seventh- and eighth-grade teacher, Chrissie, was strict and didn’t put up with any foolishness. I remember the day the boy who sat behind me poked me with a pencil, and I turned around to give him a dirty look. Suddenly, Chrissie was in front of me telling me to keep my eyes on my own work.
Spelling skills were important to Chrissie, and by the end of our years with her, we were all good writers and spellers.
At the start of high school, I wanted to be a teacher, and agriculture was a required subject. I flunked the first two six-week periods. Coach Boren, whose first name I don’t remember, encouraged me in such a way that I brought my grade up and passed the course. Then I decided I wanted to be a secretary.
Ruby Hiatt taught typing and shorthand. I did well in her classes and even won the local, district and state district contests. What I learned from Ruby Hiatt has helped me throughout my life. And my English teacher, Florence Buthweg, helped me to shape my language skills.
Many times we don’t appreciate the people who have helped us along the way, but good teachers are never forgotten.
Maxine - Exira, Iowa
Sophie was the most brilliant person to ever befriend me. We met in music appreciation class at junior college. She was a listener of music, and I was both a listener and a performer. As I so admired her intellectual talent, she was in awe of my ability to play the piano. However, our friendship went far beyond those things.
After taking tests to see what classes I would do well in, the results indicated languages, but that was not the case. Conversational French was all right, but not literary French. I could read it, but I couldn’t write it at that level. Without Sophie’s encouragement, I wouldn’t have continued my studies. However, she convinced me to try something else, so we took English courses together. We both excelled in English and went on to other basic classes.
Along the way, Sophie helped me get through geometry, and she even inspired me to take a course in philosophy. Later, we both became fascinated with psychology. What a great experience it was to study not only the subject, but also the great people who developed theories and carried out research.
By the time we received our bachelor’s degrees, Sophie had made me realize I could do a lot of things if I really wanted to and if I was willing to work hard. Eventually I switched to business courses and earned a master of business administration degree.
To this day, I am convinced that without Sophie’s support and confidence in me, I might not be where I am today.
Barbara - Rosemead, California
The special teacher in my life began her career at a very young age – when she was in first grade and would teach her little sister. She always dreamed of being a schoolteacher and ultimately became a high-school math teacher.
She has always taught in small, rural schools, and has been at her current school for the past 19 years. She has received various “Teacher of the Year” awards, but, to her, the most rewarding part of the job is interacting with her students.
This March, her daughter unexpectedly passed away less than two weeks before turning 18 – and only two months before graduation. Although still grieving, this teacher returned to school to fulfill her duties to her students and to finish the year as the senior class sponsor, the person who oversees prom, graduation and the senior trip.
This special teacher is my daughter.
Lynn - Hartman, Colorado
I had a very kind and influential teacher when I was in my second year of high school. It was the first semester of the school year, and suddenly I became quite ill and was confined to bed for many weeks.
When I went back to school, I was way behind in all my studies and was worried that I was going to fail my classes. One day while in study hall, the algebra, geometry and trigonometry teacher approached me and asked me to follow her to her classroom. I was frightened, thinking I was in serious trouble for something, although I couldn’t figure out what.
We reached Miss Markley’s room, and she told me to find a desk and be seated. Smiling a big smile, she told me she knew I was behind in all my subjects and said she wanted to help me get caught up so I wouldn’t fail. She said she had talked to the superintendent and my other teachers, and they had all agreed that she could help me.
I had actually been afraid of this dear, kind woman before, because all the students talked against her because she never smiled, and she didn’t put up with any foolishness in her classroom. She was strictly business and felt that students were in her class to learn, and therefore, that’s what they would do.
I met with Miss Markley every day to study, and we even got to where we would visit when we took a break between subjects. I came to dearly love this woman, who was the only one, and the least expected I might add, of my teachers who stepped up and helped me pass my classes when I so easily could have failed them all.
Miss Markley was the dearest teacher I’ve ever had, and a true friend who really cared about a young girl who had been very ill.
Ethel - Nashville, Kansas
I was in second grade when I was fortunate enough to meet Miss Foley. It was her first year of teaching, and in our little schoolhouse, she was responsible for teaching all eight grades. This should have seemed like a formidable job to someone so inexperienced, but she accepted the responsibility with eagerness and joy.
On the first day of school, Miss Foley arrived with storybooks and a little record player. We came to love the record player, because most of us didn’t have a source of music in our homes. Therefore, it was a treat to hear music each day before we began our studies.
Miss Foley always dressed nicely. In fact, one student’s mother visited the school one day, and I heard her say to Miss Foley, “You are so dressed up. Are you expecting someone important today?” Miss Foley told her there was no one more important than her pupils, saying she wanted to look her best for us. We appreciated her efforts and admired each outfit she wore. It wasn’t long before we all came to school wearing clean clothes, looking scrubbed and combed.
We all felt we were special to Miss Foley, and I really think we were. If we missed a day of school, Miss Foley contacted our parents to make sure we were OK. When it was too cold to play outside, she taught us how to play all kinds of fun games indoors, and I think she might have actually had more fun than we did.
Unfortunately, all good things must end, and, after two years, Miss Foley was transferred to another school. When she told us the news, we all cried, including her. She promised to keep in touch with all of us, and I’m happy to say she did. I am also happy to say that the influence she had on me has stayed with me through all these years.
Alma - Monrovia, Indiana
Sixty-five years ago, when I was in third grade, Miss Tierney was my teacher.
Just last year, she turned 94. She was a small woman who was always dressed immaculately, with every hair in place. She was kind-spirited, yet everyone knew she was in charge. She had a remarkable memory, beautiful penmanship and a gentle voice that commanded attention.
I was the first of 11 children to have Miss Tierney (who later became Mrs. Lanterman) as a teacher, and I will never forget how she made learning an adventure. Her enthusiasm and determination gave her students incentive, and she was always fair. She had cursive letters she’d cut out hanging around the room for all of us to see while she taught us penmanship. We learned self-worth by watching her example and seeing how she treated people.
Over the years, Mrs. Lanterman has corresponded with all of my siblings and me. She even sent me a greeting card when I earned an associate degree.
Not everything Mrs. Lanterman did was pleasing to us, though. For example, one day when we wrote on the sidewalks with chalk, she handed us a bucket of water and a brush, and told us to wash it all off. We did as we were told, hoping our mom would never find out. Unfortunately, she did.
At the end of each school year, Mrs. Lanterman threw a class party, in which she supplied all the refreshments, which was quite a sacrifice in those days. She also told every class that it was a pleasure to teach them. Each year, my mother sent a note thanking her for teaching whichever child was in third grade that year. We later found out that Mrs. Lanterman kept every note Mom wrote to her.
When our mom passed away in 2001, Mrs. Lanterman came to the funeral. She remembered all of our names and talked to each of us. We were fortunate to have Mrs. Lanterman for a teacher, but more importantly to have her as our friend.
Alice - Lincoln, Illinois
I attended high school in McPherson, Kansas, from 1934 to 1938, and one classmate especially stands out in my mind. Her name was Jean, and she was pretty and wealthy. She lived in a beautiful home I called a mansion, and my family lived in an apartment.
I sat behind Jean in one of our classes, and I was in awe of her because she had her hair fixed at a beauty salon every Friday. She was nice and polite, and she always spoke to me when we passed each other in the hall. One day when we passed in the hall, after speaking, I smiled at her. Suddenly and surprisingly, she said, “Susan, you sure do have pretty teeth.” Imagine someone like her, who has everything, complimenting someone like me. I will never forget her, because she helped boost my self-esteem.
Susan - St. Joseph, Missouri
Back in the 1940s, my little sister’s grammar school teacher, Miss Noel, was putting on a play in the school’s auditorium, and my mother asked me to take my sister to the rehearsals after school. Miss Noel asked me one day if I would like to help. I was shy, so I was reluctant at first, but I finally agreed.
I stayed in the background and only came forward when Miss Noel needed me, which became more often each day. I didn’t realize that she was trying to help me get over being shy and teaching me to interact with others. Soon my shyness diminished, and it felt good.
On the day of the play, one of the girls lost her voice, and Miss Noel asked me to fill in for her. I knew every line and every song in the play, and I had somewhat come out of my shell, but I wasn’t sure I could stand up in front of a crowd and sing. However, Miss Noel knew exactly what to say to encourage me, and although I was shaking like a leaf, I did it.
That was a big turning point in my life. I was in junior high school and knew there would be a lot of oral presentations in front of my classmates. Miss Noel had come along in the nick of time, and I wasn’t even her student. I give her credit for my doing well in school from that day forward.
Miss Noel and I kept in touch for many years. She once confessed that she, too, had been shy in her early years. She said a special teacher had recognized her shyness, just as she had mine, and had helped her. She had vowed that she would pass that help on, and she did. I’ll always be grateful to Miss Noel for touching my life.
Elinor - Niagara Falls, New York
On commencement day, I stood at the podium before my fellow classmates, teachers, family and friends. The culmination of 12 years of hard work and sacrifice had led me to this moment. I had been chosen as salutatorian of my class, an honor I would never forget.
I had been labeled a slow learner when I started grammar school. I tried my best to do well, but I had trouble with reading comprehension. I didn’t realize my full potential until my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dougherty, gave me the encouragement I needed. When she told me that I could do anything I put my mind to, it was the turning point in my young life, and soon my grades began to improve.
Through high school I was on the honor roll, I was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, and I attended art classes at Moore Institute of Art.
As I approached my senior year, I decided I wanted to attend the Museum College of Art and major in fashion illustration. To do so, I would have to work full time and attend college at night. I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew the sacrifice would be well worth it when I received my associate degree.
The day before graduation, I was told that I had been chosen as the class salutatorian. I spent most of that evening working on my speech, and Mrs. Dougherty’s words kept running through my mind: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Suddenly, I knew that had it not been for Mrs. Dougherty’s help and encouragement, I would not be preparing a speech as salutatorian, so I decided to make her words the focus of my speech.
The next evening, I was a little nervous as I walked down the aisle with my fellow classmates to our seats. I had come a long way from grammar school, and thanks to Mrs. Dougherty, I was about to embark on my greatest challenge.
When my name was called, I proudly walked up to the platform and stood at the podium with a newfound confidence. “As your salutatorian, I stand here today to tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to. Success is within your grasp,” I said loudly and proudly to my classmates, teachers, family and friends in the audience.
After giving my speech, I was presented with a trophy and a scholarship to the college of my choice. Happily, I now had the money I needed to start college in the fall. As I walked off the stage and down the steps, Mrs. Dougherty was waiting with a big smile on her face. “Congratulations,” she said. “I always knew you could do anything you put your mind to.”
Janet - Folcroft, Pennsylvania
My home economics teacher became my favorite teacher in seventh grade, and she continued that role for the rest of her life. It was her first job, and she seemed determined to make a Southern lady of me, a rambunctious tomboy.
I tackled her first assignment half-heartedly, thinking “How hard can it be to make a pair of pajamas?” Well, it didn’t take long to find out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the pajama pants to turn out right. I spent more time ripping out seams than sewing them. The teacher was patient, though, and I gradually got it.
My last project of the school year was to make an outfit that would be modeled in a style show. My teacher helped me choose a pattern and material, and I could hardly wait to get started. I worked very carefully, so as not to make any mistakes. Classmates voted on the best outfit, and although I didn’t win, I discovered that sewing was both fun and rewarding.
My widowed father was quite impressed with the changes in me, and he couldn’t wait to meet the woman he deemed a miracle-maker. After meeting her, he seemed unusually interested in how I was doing in home economics, and he began picking me up after school more often. My father was a pastor, and he and I were both delighted when my teacher joined our church. Soon, my favorite teacher married my father and became my stepmother.
Over the years, she helped my sisters and me with sewing projects, and by the time I was married and had daughters of my own, I was confident enough to make many of their clothes. The most difficult and rewarding project I undertook was making the wedding dress and two bridesmaid dresses for one of my daughters.
I taught all three of my daughters to sew, and they have made many of their own clothes, as well as some for their husbands and children. There are boxes of sewing scraps now stored in my attic, waiting to become quilts of beautiful memories, and it’s all thanks to my favorite teacher and stepmother.
Anne - Sylvania, Ohio
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