As we do at this time each year, we asked a few folks connected to ISA to share their thoughts on a memorable teacher. Who was yours?
Dawn Leusner, Senior Research Project Manager, ETS: I still remember my second grade elementary school teacher, Mrs. Keats. She introduced us to poetry—yes, poetry! I think that’s why I think of her so fondly to this very day. And, believe it or not, I can still recite “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Her trust in us was powerful, as we broke down each stanza and talked through what the words meant. I grew to love poetry, and my house is now full of books by Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Langston Hughes, T. S Eliot, Dr. Seuss, and Maya Angelou, to name a few. And while I chose research as a profession for the past 31 years, the last 20 in the field of education, I took that trust Mrs. Keats gave us and paid it forward in how I interact with students today. Students are capable of doing more than we know, and their capacity to learn is limitless if given the right tools, preparation, and opportunities. Thank you, Mrs. Keats. I’ll never forget you or our class!
Steve Hovdestad, Financial Analyst Lead, ETS: Thinking back on my time at school, I feel very fortunate. There were so many teachers I crossed paths with during my education who taught me how to think critically, influenced the way I processed knowledge, and helped shape the way I saw the world. All of them were excellent; however, there was one that stands out. When I think of past teachers, I remember Mr. Hewlett, my seventh grade history teacher. He had a reputation for being the meanest teacher in school, running a no-nonsense classroom and giving a punishing amount of homework. He was also the only teacher that took the time to stand up for me when I was struggling academically, to figure out what style of learner I was and adapt his approach, and to push other teachers to do the same. When other teachers said I wasn’t trying hard enough, he spoke up and told them they were the ones who weren’t trying. He helped me become a more confident student and to understand that just because you don’t understand something the first time doesn’t mean you are less capable.
Sylvia Royster, Director of Community Engagement and Equity, Charles County (MD) Public Schools: I can still see her in my heart and my mind, Ms. Bryan, my fifth grade teacher. When I was in her class, I knew I could do anything that I put my mind to! She challenged me with her instruction, but most importantly she motivated me to think critically and creatively as a learner. She reminded me that I was very smart and that I had so much potential! I remember that it was almost winter break, and when we were lining up to go home, she laid a card on my desk (I still have it!). The card told me how special I was as a student and that she believed in me and my dreams to be a teacher one day. Little did she know that her encouragement and high expectations helped me become a teacher, administrator, and now a student in my doctoral program at George Washington University. I will forever be grateful for Ms. Bryan!
Christina Roberts, ISA coach: Teachers are real life superheroes—not because they run around in capes and tights saving people from impending danger but because they ignite the passion and unleash the genius of their students. My superhero was Ms. Moore. I had her for 10th grade honors English, 11th grade honors English, and Advanced Placement English literature in my senior year. Most students might dread getting the same teacher 3 years in a row, but I was absolutely ecstatic because taking one of Ms. Moore’s classes was like signing up for a marathon that you knew would have grueling moments that pushed you past your limits, but that would also end in an unmatched glory of personal growth and academic success.
She was the first teacher to help me discover the power of literature and its ability to wrestle with all of the themes of the human condition. Oddly enough, the first book we read together— and that I fell in love with— was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and then I was enamored of Emerson and Thoreau.
Throughout these years, I explored issues of intersectional identities, generational trauma, coming of age, class wars, toxic masculinity, and gender norms by reading books by Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, J. D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath. Whether we read ancient texts by Homer or modern day poets, Ms. Moore exposed us to the breadth and depth of the human experience, which enabled us to think critically, cultivate empathy, and recognize the shared humanity of those with backgrounds different from our own.
Ms. Moore is the reason I became a high school English teacher, and what she taught me equipped me to become a principal and eventually an entrepreneur. We need more Ms. Moores today more than ever, and I pray that all of the Ms. Moores out there right now know that they are truly transforming the world with every (academic and nonacademic) lesson they teach.