Those Who Shape Us

Daily writing prompt
Who was your most influential teacher? Why?

We don’t realize it but the teachers who educated us on reading, writing, science, and math are shapers of our lives. Of course, there are those teachers who really shouldn’t be teaching because they really are just making a living and really don’t care to better the children who’ll eventually grow to run the world, but that’s not who we’re talking about here.

I simply can’t pick just one teacher who’ve influenced me, so here’s my list:

Elementary/Grade school: 4th grade teacher. His name was Mr. Shwindt and I remember when he picked me as the student of the year. I was shocked because there was another student who I thought was just perfect in every way and that she’d definitely get picked. Strangely, I felt bad because I didn’t think I deserved it. I was not the perfect student. I was shy in class, but loud with my friends. I wanted to grow up too fast, so I always wore makeup and curled/teased my hair (this was the 80’s). Plus, I believe you had to have straight A’s and I had like a D in music. I was afraid to sing because I didn’t like my voice. One time, Mr. Shwindt sat at our table at lunchtime, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I always thought teachers lived big and were super rich and thus were too good to sit with and chat with students. He influenced me because he showed that it didn’t matter how “rich” he was, he wanted us to know that we were all the same. Also, the teacher I had the year before him (so, 3rd grade) was to me, a bit picky. She favored certain students and no matter what I did to show that I was a good student, she just never liked me. Going from that teacher to one that was kind and fair with all the students was a nice change.

Middle School: 7th Grade English teacher. I can’t remember this teacher’s name, but she was the sweetest teacher I’d known. She had a very soft voice and never seemed to get mad. She taught so well that I remembered a ton of stuff about Greek Mythology and fell in love with short literary stories. When I had moved on to 8th grade the next year, she’d asked me to work as her grading assistant for one of my electives. I was so excited, mainly because I realized that she appreciated me.  

I also want to give a shout out to the librarian. In 8th grade, three students from the Gifted and Talented program were picked to help her (as one of our elective courses) and I was one of the students. It was such an amazing experience to learn about how a library was ran. The librarian was also a very sweet and kind woman. At the end of the school year, there was an award ceremony where we each got an award for our help in the library, but what I really remembered was how much I’d miss my GT friends, the librarian, and all those books!

High School: 9th Grade AP English. This teacher’s name was Mrs. Burger, and she was mean. If you weren’t ready when she picked on you to answer a question, she’d come back to you and let you know she was coming back to you, so you’d better have an answer, and the right answer too. If she picked on you and you didn’t answer, she’d wait like three minutes or so (well, that’s how long it felt but it might have been shorter) before moving on to ask the next student. I was really scared of her. I didn’t understand why she had to be so hard on us. However, in college, when I was able to understand English like no one’s business, I realized it was because of her. She was so good with grammar and the usage of all the participles (present, past, perfect), perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, future perfect), active/passive tenses (simple present, present progressive, present perfect, present progressive, present perfect progressive, simple past, past perfect, past perfect continuous, past perfect), and so on. She also made reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens exciting. Just the way she taught us to dissect the characters really had a lasting effect, so much so that I bought David Copperfield with the little money I had (from delivering the morning newspaper with my sisters) just to be lost in another book written by Dickens.

High School: 10th Grade Botany and Zoology. This teacher was fun to learn from. He made science enjoyable by having us do some work ourselves. He was also a good lecturer too. I always felt I was in a college course in his class. At this time of my life, I had stepped down from AP English and took your basic English course and regretted it. The English course itself was interesting, but it was just too easy, and because it was a regular course, most the students didn’t care to learn in the class and preferred to talk over the teacher. The teacher was okay. I think he felt more like a babysitter than a teacher.

High School: 11th Grade AP English. I found my way back to AP English because as mentioned earlier, regular English was too easy. What I loved about this AP English was reading Brave New World. I think this was the best teacher to teach this book because I was so immersed in it, I ended up buying the book. She also introduced me (the class, but I have to assume some of the students already knew who he was) to the musician Yanni, and had me loving “These Are Days,” by 10,000 Maniacs. I already knew who 10,000 Maniacs was and had heard the song, but she got me to love the song, and eventually, I got hooked on Natalie Merchant.

High School: 12th Grade University Level Communications Course: This course was taught by the same AP English teacher in 11th grade. She was a full-time teacher at the high school and part-time teacher at the University of Colorado in Denver. This course was offered to AP English students, but we had to apply and get accepted. I was so excited when I got accepted even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t think I was as smart as the other students who got in. You know, you kind of just know, you know? Anyway, I loved the course. Learned a ton from this amazing teacher. When I started college, this course helped me ace all my research papers. During a review session in my English 101 class, the professor asked me if I was a pre-med student because my research paper was that good. It was all because of this teacher and my 9th grade AP English teacher.

Undergraduate School: 3rd Year (I believe). I think my HTML professor was the only teacher that I could say was most influential. He taught so fast it was hard to write anything he said down, but the cool thing with him was that in the first fifteen or twenty minutes of class, he’d talk about his family. His granddaughter was an ice skater and sometimes he’d make it to class late, but he’d tell us all about her skating and I just loved it. Then, the last few minutes of class, he’d quickly write down codes and stuff and then it was time to leave. HTML was easy to learn so I can see why he taught the way he did. I had already learned HTML on my own, so it was a breeze. This was back in the mid-90’s when the Internet was just booming and we were designing websites by simply using a notepad or if you could afford it, Macromedia Dreamweaver (before Adobe purchased it and then discontinued it). The student version was affordable, but I had a classmate who got me the full version for free. Anyway, I digress. This professor was very family oriented and loved his family so much. Even though he was good at what he did, his family always came first, and I think I took that with me.

Graduate School: 1st Year. Professor Fletcher was amazing. He was very patient and super knowledgeable. I started my program in nonfiction, writing memoir, and this professor knew so much. Also, memoir writing is no piece of cake. I found myself getting depressed and crying all the time, but I stuck through it for a year. Never told the professor. I just dealt with it. The knowledge I learned from his classes are still with me and I use them to write my fiction stories. The 2nd year (and final year) of my master’s program, I had switched to literary fiction because I found it a lot more fun and less depressing. I had taken about 6 years off between starting and finishing so when I wanted Professor Fletcher again, he’d moved on. I was pretty disappointed that I waited so long, but life got in the way, and there wasn’t anything I could have done to finish my program sooner. I would have loved to have finished my program with Fletcher. However, I was able to do that with the second best, the director of the MA and MFA programs. The director was great too. I had written a story from a dream I had and called it, Encounter. Not thinking anything of it, because I’ve never written thrillers, I figured if he liked it, he liked it. If not, I’ll try again (he was very hard to please). Turned out, it was his favorite of all my stories. I learned from this that everyone has their own taste and even the hardest to please will still enjoy a story if it fits their genre of interest.

There you have it. These were the biggest influential teachers of my educational years. There were a few others too, like two of my art teachers (one in 9th grade and one in 10th grade) who saw the artist in me, and the accounting teacher whom I’ve dedicated my first published book to. Also note, my middle school and high school years were not the best. Like a lot of others, I was bullied and had my moments thinking of dropping out of high school. Just having these teachers who enjoyed what they did and were good at it made going to school a little easier.