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Teachers Make a Difference

My students mean the world to me and I always try my hardest to be the best teacher I can be for them. But, nothing happens in a vacuum. I am the teacher I am because of my own experiences.

My first teacher was my mom, Cindy. She had been a teacher herself and she worked tirelessly to enrich my childhood to foster my curiosity and to let me know that I wasn't merely "precocious" but inquisitive.

The next influential teacher was my beloved Miss Westhoven, my 3rd grade teacher. Miss Westhoven was one of the few teachers I ever had who truly understood high achieving students, and who would give me unique challenges to stimulate me as opposed to merely giving me busy work or having me "help in the classroom." When I graduated high school, Miss Westhoven attended the Stars Banquet on my behalf for the top-achieving students. She was so honored I remembered her...I don't think she fully understood that she was one of the main reasons I wanted to continue pushing myself, and one of the reasons I became a teacher.

After elementary school, I was blessed with several outstanding teachers. The first was Mr. Evans, my band teacher, who saw a talent in me I didn't even see in myself. Not only that, but he was an exceptional human being. Years later, when I was in high school, he saw me get a flat tire. He immediately turned his car around, pulled over, and changed my tire for me. He is such a selfless human being and I still have so much respect and admiration for him.

I was also fortunate enough to have one of the only PE teachers I ever truly liked, Mr. Boyle. Mr. Boyle believed in everyone - including me! While he did continually try to recruit me (unsuccessfully) to the cross country team, what he taught me went beyond sports. He taught everyone about respect and kindness, about being able to achieve despite personal views of one's own limitations. Mr. Boyle showed everyone that drive is more important than appearance, and to keep striving despite difficulty.

The other middle school teacher who left a mark on me was Mr. Gabler. Mr. Gabler was my 8th grade science teacher. On a weekly basis, Mr. Gabler allowed me to stay after school to pick his brain about everything from science to how life works to religion to the universe. Mr. Gabler was curious, too, and taught me that I didn't need my learning to stop outside the classroom. When I graduated high school, he gifted me with the Tao Te Ching, a book I still refer to to this day, and a book I have even used as a teacher on occasion to illustrate philosophical concepts. The only reason I ever became a science teacher, or even had the courage to do so, was because of him.

In high school, I had a few truly inspirtational teachers who motivated, encouraged, and believed in me. I am still in touch with some of them today. One of the first such teachers, the late Doug Norlander, was a teacher with whom I never agreed politically, but who always loved and supported his students regardless of personal beliefs. Dougy Nory (as we called him) fostered lively debates in class, crafted the most unique and exhilirating lessons and activities, and allowed my creativity within the discipline of history to bloom in a way I never imagined. Before him, I hated history. Because of him, I minored in history at university.

I had another amazing history teacher, Mr. Roleff, who has become a close friend over the years. We meet for coffee or lunch when I'm home, and we discuss everything under the sun. Not only was he an innovative and energetic teacher when I was in high school, but he has proven to be a steadfast friend over the years, a man of unrivaled enthusiasm and zest for life. Mr. Roleff's approach to teaching was so unique, and I think of him every time I put on music in my classroom, as that was his signature characteristic. To this day, he calls me "Phoebe" after the character from the T.V. show "Friends," and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My English teacher, Mrs. Olson, also left a massive impression on me. Not only was she conscientious and compassionate to all her students, but she pushed everyone to succeed by keeping her expectations high, and we rose to the occasion. There were no "easy" lessons in her class. The lessons we learned were formative and important, and my writing blossomed under her guidance. I will never forget what she told me before I went off to college. She said, "Amanda, you have the soul of a poet," and every single time I ever write anything, to this day, I think of her and wonder if what I wrote would make her proud. I like to think so!

The other influential English teacher I had was Ms. Gessert. Not only did she push us with a mountain of books to consume throughout the course, but each and every time I wrote an essay, she would pull me aside and say "I left you a LOT of comments!" because she knew how badly I wanted to improve and how I valued her feedback and commentary. I will also never forget when I wrote a poem about a farmer picking an apple, and she read it to the entire class without telling them who wrote it. The hush that fell over the class as she read - it was enthralling! I've never written a piece of music and heard it performed, but I imagine the feeling might be the same as having someone else read your poetry to a rapt audience.

While there were undoubtedly more teachers who inspired me in some way, I want to highlight one more crucial teacher in my life whose faith in me and my abilities led me to achieve a Bachelor's of Science in Mathematics: Mrs. Hyers. Mrs. Hyers was my calculus teacher in high school and her dynamism, enthusiasm, and innovation showed me that I was not the only one who found math "fun." Her love of puzzles and solving challenging problems in undeniably unique methods helped me think outside the mathematical box I had been caged in. I began thinking more abstractly and I only wish I could have had her as one of my university professors in my math program.

Teachers make a difference. I hope I can inspire at least some of my students in the way these teachers have inspired me! Thank you!!! 🥰

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