By Teresa Preston, Associate Editor, Educational Leadership
When I think of how teachers make a difference, I always think of my 9th grade English teacher, Janet Walter. Although I loved to read, English class didn’t excite me before 9th grade. I liked some of the class readings, but I wasn’t learning much. Mrs. Walter changed all that. She introduced her students to Shakespeare and Dickens, to Thurber and Plath. For the first time, I was reading what I saw as literature—the kinds of books and authors that adults read—and I loved it. As a coach of the academic team that I joined in 10th grade, Mrs. Walter guided me to Thomas Hardy, Tennessee Williams, Langston Hughes, and many other authors who remain my favorites.
But it wasn’t only the reading assignments that made Mrs. Walter stand out as a teacher. It was the way she acknowledged my abilities while always showing me how I could do better. I had always been the kind of student teachers didn’t need to pay much attention to. I got my work done and made excellent grades without a lot of effort. I didn’t necessarily stand out, but I didn’t need a lot of help. Mrs. Walter, however, saw my talent for writing and used one of my essays in class as an example of what she was looking for. But as she did so, she pointed out all the ways that even this strong essay could be better. I didn’t suspect it at the time, but she was teaching me a skill that I use every day as an editor.
From Mrs. Walter, I learned about my passions and talents, and I was set on a path that led me to study literature in college and eventually become an editor. I also learned that being good at something doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement—that’s an important life lesson for anyone.
Mrs. Walter died at the beginning of my senior year. She knew that I was thinking of majoring in English and becoming a teacher, but she never saw it happen. I hope she knew she was making a difference to me—a difference that wasn’t reflected in test scores or grades or any other quantifiable data.
Teachers influence students’ lives in so many ways that can’t be easily measured. The summer, digital-only issue of Educational Leadership celebrates the many ways that teachers have a profound effect on their students’ lives. The free issue will be available June 16 at www.educationalleadership-digital.com. Sign up now for an e-mail reminder after the issue is posted. The issue will also be available in the free EL app, available on iTunes, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore.
As we prepare to publish this exciting summer issue, we’d love to know how you’re making a difference as an educator. How do you help students see what they’re good at while pushing them to do better? Tell us about a student you’ve helped in this way or a strategy you’ve used to give students confidence in what they can do and a desire to keep improving.
As a thank you for all you do, we’d like to share a 10-pack of Educational Leadership subscriptions so that you can make a difference in your colleagues’ lives by sharing EL with them. To enter, share your story below by 5:00 p.m. eastern time on Friday, June 13. The EL editorial team will select our favorite response and announce the winner here on Monday, June 16. Full giveaway terms are available online.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to all who participated. The lucky winner is Alison Chin.