Good teachers impact their students in all kinds of meaningful ways. They can ignite a spark of creativity, jump-start excitement and motivation, help kids discover their talents, and draw out their sense of self-confidence. Years later, these gifts can still be felt. We asked a few authors to reflect on the teachers that changed their lives for the better, in ways big and small. Here’s what they had to say about the teachers they’ll always remember.
“She was the first person to tell me I’d be an author one day…”
“In high school, I used to turn in way more stories than were assigned, but my English teacher never minded. She kept them in a pink binder and always encouraged me to write more. She was also the first person to tell me I’d be an author one day … and I believed her. Not long ago, I heard from her for the first time in years. It turns out she has a 16-year-old daughter now, and the two of them have read all my books. But what really got me was this: she still has that old pink binder, and they’ve read all of those stories too.” —Jennifer E. Smith
Jennifer E. Smith is the author of many YA novels, including, most recently, Windfall, a story about love, luck, winning the lottery, and finding yourself.
“She was the one who introduced me to … the idea that there were amazing worlds … I could both visit and, someday, even create.”
“I was lucky enough to have the same magical teacher in both fourth and sixth grade. Miss Zuczek was the kind of teacher who set up beanbags in the back of the room where children could curl up and read when they had finished their work, surrounded by hanging plants and fish tanks. Her classroom was the first place that I discovered daily journaling, a skill that helps me with my writing to this day. She was the one who introduced me to Tolkien and Jack London, and the idea that there were amazing worlds beyond my little suburban town that I could both visit and, someday, even create. There is a little bit of Miss Zuczek in many of my teacher characters, especially the ones that encourage literature and literacy, and bring a bit of zaniness and joy into their classrooms.” —Nancy Krulik
Nancy Krulik has written over one hundred books for children and young adults. Her latest, The Kid from Planet Z (on sale 5/9/17), is a new chapter book series for early readers about a little alien, his family, and his talking cat, all of whom come crashing down on Earth.
“My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Christy, understood the power a teacher has to impact lives…”
“My second novel, Fish in a Tree, is a long, late thank you to the teacher who — and don’t doubt this — saved me. I left fifth grade wondering what would become of me, but my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Christy, understood the power a teacher has to impact lives. He knew that what a teacher says sticks; that’s why the good ones are vigilant in spending their words carefully. That old saying that begins, ‘Sticks and stones…’ isn’t true. Words have enormous power and the best teachers know how to use them. Words can change a kid’s perception of the world — or of himself. That’s powerful stuff. Life-altering, world-changing stuff. I know Mr. Christy changed my world and I have been able to take that and pay it forward. What a special gift that has been.” —Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a former teacher and the author of the New York Times bestseller Fish in a Tree, a story about being yourself, finding your strengths, the value of all kinds of smarts, and the power of amazing teachers.
“She did a great job of coming up with fun, engaging activities to supplement our schoolwork.”
“My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Brown was young and enthusiastic. She did a great job of coming up with fun, engaging activities to supplement our schoolwork. Our class got to make big papier-mâché dinosaurs that were put on display at our city library — quite a memorable experience! (Also memorable for my father, who somehow agreed to make a five-foot-long stegosaurus frame out of wood and chicken wire.)” —Deborah Underwood
“Mrs. Daniel cared, and she wanted me to care, too.”
“I adored my third grade teacher, Mrs. Daniel, so when she pulled me aside to tell me she was disappointed that I wasn’t putting more effort into my work, it was like having cold water thrown in my face. I wasn’t doing my best, but I had assumed nobody at school cared as long as my grades were good. Mrs. Daniel cared, and she wanted me to care, too. The conversation we had that day has made a big difference in how I’ve approached so many challenges since then.” —Cassie Beasley
Cassie Beasley is the author of two middle grade books, the bestselling Circus Mirandus and forthcoming Tumble & Blue (on sale 8/29/17). She can sometimes be found farming pecans on her family’s Georgia pecan farm.
“Great teachers hand you the mantel of learning to carry through your life…”
“‘1066, you’ll always remember it.’ Said my sophomore history teacher the first day of class and I always have. Mrs. Tarantini was a brilliant woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm that inspired us all to know the value of our past, in the hopes of a better future. She explained great complexities of history with wit and zeal, and to this day, I have never felt the same about the French Revolution. Great teachers hand you the mantel of learning to carry through your life, and I’m still holding fast to mine from Mrs. Tarantini.” —Justin Sayre
Justin Sayre is the author of two connected middle grade novels, Husky and the new Pretty, which comes out in July. In addition to writing books for young readers, Justin writes for the television show “2 Broke Girls”.
“It was such a boost to have someone care so much about and believe so much in my abilities and potential at a time when everything I thought I knew about myself felt wrong…”
“I can’t pick a favorite teacher — that’s like choosing a favorite book, argh! — but I will never forget the experience of working with my TA in a huge freshman Astronomy course at college. I’d been so excited about it; I’d been forced strongly encouraged to watch the entire ‘Cosmos’ series, and had secretly enjoyed much of it; planetarium visits and reading of Madeleine L’Engle had sparked an interest in the science of the stars. But just a few classes in, I was completely lost. There were over 400 of us in the class, the professor certainly didn’t know my name, and I’m not sure I remembered his after the first day. I floundered through the first few units and was in danger of failing; the shock and shame of not being a ‘top’ student was as debilitating as not being able to comprehend the work itself. But we were divided into sections where we worked closely with graduate student teaching assistants, and mine was determined not to give up on me. He was relentlessly hopeful about the dreaded final exam, upon which a huge portion of our final grade would be based, and exceedingly patient when I appeared at office hours with the same questions over and over again.
Then we got on to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Cosmology — and it clicked. My time in office hours was spent in joyful discussion of theory and possibility — the stories of science. When exam time came, I aced the essay questions and that final exam. When I got my test paper back, I ran to that office one last time and did not even try to disguise my joy with any semblance of cool. ‘You did so well! I’m so proud!’ he said, grinning and celebrating just as much as I was. And he really was, in that way that only a true educator is. I finished the class with a B.
The first year at university is such a delicate and vulnerable time; it was such a boost to have someone care so much about and believe so much in my abilities and potential at a time when everything I thought I knew about myself felt wrong.
Now, I’m working on a book that incorporates some of those theories and ideas, and every time I get stuck or frustrated or feel myself slipping into an I’m-not-smart-enough-for-this shame spiral, I remember those days and that teacher who kept telling me that I belonged, that I could soar, that the possibilities for me were as endless as the stars.” —Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is a Brooklyn-dweller who writes books for kids. She’s currently working on a follow-up to her critically acclaimed middle grade novel, Two Naomis. And Two Naomis Too comes out next year.
We’d love to hear about the teachers that meant the most to you. Share your memories of your favorite teachers with us in the comments below!