More stories from readers about who influenced them … and how.
Through four years of high school in the mid-1950s, my classmates and I were ruled by a formidable woman. Standing close to six feet tall, our principal ruled the school with an iron fist in an iron glove. With steel-gray hair pulled back into a bun and wire-rimmed glasses sitting on her nose, Miss Tibbles allowed no nonsense from anyone. None of us had ever heard her tell a joke, and she seldom smiled.
Not only was she the principal, but she also taught freshman and sophomore English and Latin, and for three of my four years in high school, she was either my home room or study hall teacher.
During study hall, Miss Tibbles often went to the superintendent’s office. Before she left, she would tell us to be silent and to keep studying while she was gone, which, of course, we didn’t do. Occasionally the intercom would come on, and we would hear her deep voice telling us that we would all receive demerits if we did not settle down at once. Most of the time we would hear her thick-heeled, laced-up shoes clomping on the wooden floor as she made her way down the hallway toward her classroom, and we would quickly return to our seats and open our books to make it look like we’d been studying all along.
My classmates and I all thought we didn’t like her, but we did have to admit she was fair. She never played favorites among the students, and she always allowed us to explain our mistakes. She dealt out her own punishments, and even if we didn’t like it, we had to admit we deserved what we got.
Miss Tibbles tried her best to help the slower learners, and she pushed the smarter students to reach higher. She also encouraged us girls to go to college or business school so we could support ourselves and not have to depend on someone to take care of us. Now, remember, this was during a time when college wasn’t that common for girls.
She gave me the push I needed to go on to school, and, even though I didn’t continue with my studies, to read and learn for a lifetime. I feel my interest in many different subjects can be traced back to her influence. Miss Tibbles is gone now, but when I surf the internet for an answer to a question, I often think of how much she would have loved computers.
If I could see her one more time, I would say, “Thank you, Miss Tibbles, for the quest for knowledge that you instilled in me.”
Marilyn - Monticello, Iowa
I met my favorite teacher as a junior in high school. A middle-aged woman who had devoted her entire life to education, she taught typing and shorthand. Although those subjects generally required no more planning than turning the page to the next lesson, she had a musical voice and spiced up every class period with a mini-lecture on helpful hints for job success and life in general.
Somewhere in the midst of the rules for single and double spacing, she would tell us that along with knowledge and skills, we must be able to get along well with others, and that meant putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. She would often say that learning never stops, even after receiving a high-school and/or college diploma. She said life itself would always continue to be a learning process.
While shorthand phrases and brief forms unfurled before our eyes, she often said that practice makes perfect. As we handed in five practice pages a day, she would examine them, count them and admire them as though they were leaves of gold. Between shorthand readings, she stressed to us that we should choose a field of work that we would enjoy and said it would not be a disgrace to change careers in favor of a more interesting challenge. She said we should find work that would make us happy to get up in the morning.
Since our shorthand class consisted of girls only, we also received advice on dating. She warned us to beware of any guy who wanted to control our lives, or who was sassy to his mother, or who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. In this cell phone age, I can only imagine the beware advice she would have added to her list. Even now, I am sometimes reminded of the advice she gave my classmates and me between the lines of clerical trivia.
She was truly a remarkable woman, and a shining example of someone who thoroughly enjoyed her own career. Always kind, encouraging and supportive, she showed genuine interest in our welfare.
Mary - Salina, Kansas
When I think of a heroic teacher, I immediately think of Miss Marian Cochran, who was my teacher during the days of World War II. Her motto was “Be cheerful. There are better days ahead.”
Miss Cochran would sometimes take our class to the creek and let us wade. Other times she would take us to see a movie, and then get us an ice cream cone.
In addition to teaching school for 47 years, she raised a nephew and took care of her parents. All the while, she still made time to work and play in the garden. After retiring, she enjoyed traveling.
Many years have gone by, but I still think of Miss Cochran as my hero. I truly admired her for the love she showed other people.
Betty - Lacey, Washington
Two special teachers have graced my life.
The first was my piano teacher, Marie Barta. Not only did she teach me to play the piano, but she also encouraged me to broaden my horizons beyond life in a small Iowa town. She even took me to concerts in a nearby city. She remained a friend and mentor as I pursued pipe organ study and a college degree in music.
In later years, my wonderful piano teacher was living in a care center and fell on hard times. It was my pleasure to help her by paying for her hair care and toiletries. She passed away two years ago, and I still miss my friend and mentor.
The second influential teacher in my life was Elizabeth Southard, the wife of the school superintendent. She taught home economics, English and business education, and excellence was her motto. Most of the students thought she was too tough, but through her diligent instruction, I learned the valuable lesson of doing things right the first time.
Sun City, Arizona
I first met Zany Zach when I was a 14-year-old eighth-grader. Zach was her last name, and she loved to play with words. She wanted her love of words to rub off on her students, so she used unusual words in unusual ways. Most of the students resisted it, but not me. I loved the way she came roaring into the English classroom every afternoon, her curly hair frizzing out in all directions and a clown pendant swinging wildly from a chain around her neck. She was odd, and I liked that, because I was a little odd, too.
In the public school system, I was a misfit. I had previously been home-schooled and had done well, but most of my teachers knew little about home-schooled children and assumed that I hadn’t been taught anything. Therefore, when I raised my hand in their classrooms, they pretended not to see me. I’m sure it was their way of trying to spare me embarrassment in case I didn’t know the answer. However, zany Mrs. Z. looked me in the eye and challenged me to be right. She was the kind of person you so desperately wanted to please, and I set out to do just that.
Mrs. Z. called on me often, and she must have mentioned it to the other teachers, because soon the other teachers began calling on me, too.
I took every class Mrs. Z. taught, including creative writing. She was writing a book on our county at the time, and she gave us students the opportunity to write a chapter for her book. I was delighted at the idea of having my work published, and I threw myself into the work, visiting local buildings, interviewing people and tacking away on my computer.
Mrs. Z. even asked me to work up an illustration for another book she was writing. She also posted copies of my published articles from various magazines around her classroom. She was a one-woman cheering squad for my writing, and by the time I graduated, she wasn’t only my teacher and mentor, she also my friend. Largely because of her, I went to college and majored in writing.
Not long ago, I met Mrs. Z. for lunch. Still as zany as ever, she giggled over ice cream while telling me about her latest book idea. Then, in true teacher fashion, she demanded to know if I was writing every day. Although she’s not my teacher anymore, I still want her to be proud of me, so I get up every day and write, write, write! I owe much thanks to Mrs. Z.
Lydia - Kingman, Indiana
In the fall of 1969, I was in sixth grade. My best friend, Jim, and I were living the dream, playing tackle football with the other boys in our class every day at recess. The following year we entered junior high school and everything changed.
For some reason unknown to us, it had become difficult for Jim to run. His parents took him to a doctor, and he was diagnosed as having mononucleosis. However, when Jim continued to struggle with physical activity and his body continued to slowly decay, his father sought a second opinion. This time, Jim was correctly diagnosed as having Muscular Dystrophy.
I was crushed, thinking back to the days when Jim and I had run all over the elementary school outfield, tackling anyone who dared to run with the football. Now, it was all Jim could do just to walk across the school’s parking lot.
Doctors told Jim that he would probably not live beyond the age of 35, and said if he did, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Jim, however, proved them wrong.
Now in his early 50s, Jim is married to a wonderful woman, is the father of two beautiful daughters, and runs a successful communications business in Indiana. He still struggles to walk, but he walks.
In January of this year, I was devastated to learn I had Type 1 diabetes. I immediately called Jim, perhaps wanting a sympathetic ear or maybe seeking a shoulder to cry on. After breaking the news to him, he said, “John, you’re just a man with diabetes – nothing more and nothing less. You’re still you.”
That statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly, I imagined Jim telling himself the very same thing back in junior high school: “I’m just a boy with Muscular Dystrophy – nothing more and nothing less. I’m still me.”
Jim was - and still is - a true inspiration to me.
John – Hilton Head, South Carolina