At NWEA, we stand with teachers, and recognize the profound difference they make in the lives of students. During Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked our staff to share their stories of a teacher who made a difference in their lives. We were flooded with stories; from funny and surprising to heartfelt and inspirational. Across every submission, whether in a rural school house, or the middle of a grocery store, was a common thread of passion, patience, and persistence. Here are a few of their stories, edited for length and clarity.
1. “He showed me that I could make a contribution…”
My favorite teacher was the cross-country coach at my high school, Mr. Joseph Dees. He and I both knew that I’d never be a good long-distance runner, but he saw something else in me and asked me to be the team trainer. I agreed, took online courses in first aid and how to tape ankles and knees, and became the guy that took care of the team. Mr. Dees showed a great deal of confidence in me, challenged me to stretch my skills, and showed me that I could make a contribution to something that I otherwise would not have considered.
-Vincent Salvi, Manager, Risk and Safety
2. “He understood that life was messy…”
Even though I stole his chewing tobacco and threw up during his class after obnoxiously stuffing a handful in my mouth, Mr. Lozito still took the time later that day to read and thoughtfully comment on my college essay. He taught me that the classics really are classic—and Stephen King is truly a great writer too. He understood that life was messy and always had a book to loan or a piece of advice to give. When I passed my college writing exam allowing me to skip 100- and 200-level classes, he was the first person I told. He was so excited he twerked in the grocery store way before anyone knew what twerking was!
– Katie Topping, Executive Vice President, Communications
3. “I would like to thank her for believing in me and encouraging me to find my voice.”
I went to a rural three-room schoolhouse in Grand Teton National Park, with just 20-35 kids in K-6. Mrs. Tucker taught my class of five girls from kindergarten through 6th grade. She gave the best hugs and had a full-body laugh. In a rural classroom, there is no “everyone in the class does the same thing at the same time,” so we had to learn personal responsibility and autonomy at an early age. By the 6th grade, we had worked our way through all the primary grade workbooks so we spent that year studying Fibonacci numbers. She used Fibonacci numbers as the common thread for our education—tying together math, science, writing, and the natural world. At the end of the year, she gave us all sunflower pins to remind us of her and that experience. I would like to thank her for believing in me and encouraging me to find my voice.
– Katie Dominguez, Sr. Business Technology Specialist
4. “He made me feel like I had a right to be talented and proud of it.”
I was a total ding-dong in junior high—socially focused, caught up in New Wave music and MTV, aiming to be cool. In math class, Mr. Heimdahl always started with a current events quiz. I was surprisingly good at these quizzes. I think he liked that about me, and he also learned I was good at math. I was often called on to work problems on the board for the class and explain how I got an answer. He made me feel like I had a right to be talented and to be proud of it. I couldn’t have articulated this back then, but it was really meaningful to me to have had a male teacher that saw through my ding-dong phase and didn’t care what my gender was – just that I was smart.
-Zohal Humel, Director, Content Services
5. “He showed me how learning is most successful when it’s self-directed and personal…”
Gordon Sheffield, or Shef, as we called him, challenged me as a writer and encouraged me to explore the theatre. He showed me how learning is most successful and meaningful when it’s self-directed and personal to the student. My final project for Shef was to refinish and refurbish an antique chair with cane and rush weaving. He turned our expectations of what “learning” was all about and that often the only thing limiting us is our preconceived notions of what we think about something. I appreciate him for showing that a man can be vulnerable, thoughtful, sensitive, funny, and passionate about learning.
– Taylor Hess , Sr. Technical Product Manager
6. “She had the right combination of care and academic push. I want that for every kid.”
Mrs. Kines was my 1st and 2nd grade teacher. She was kind, but also pushed me when I needed it. I grew up in a supportive home, possibly too supportive, and she was the first person to challenge me about what I had to do to be successful. I moved across the country (Baltimore to Salem) in 5th grade. It was a tough time for me, but Mrs. Kines had prepared me for challenges. While I had some academic difficulties, I kept my 1st and 2nd grade experiences in my mind as I eventually got on track. I think she had the right combination of care and academic push. I want that for every kid. I believe the challenge that she presented is what we’re going for with our work here at NWEA. With clear, honest data, more teachers can do what she did for me. It’s not that the data is magic, but it is an opening for a teacher to get that balance between support and push right. If I could speak to her today, I’d tell her that I wouldn’t be doing today what I’m doing if it weren’t for her. She set me up for success, and she may not know that.
-Chris Minnich, CEO