The Teachers (And Student) Who Inspire Our Fishman Finalists to Teach
Great teachers deserve celebration and recognition all year round, of course. But it’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and that’s as good an excuse as any to shout our recognition from the rooftops.
A couple weeks ago, we introduced you to 10 phenomenal teachers who are this year’s Fishman Prize finalists. Each is changing lives every day in his or her classroom. Today, on National Teacher Appreciation Day, we asked them to reflect on the special teachers in their lives who pushed them to become the game-changing educators they are. Here’s what they had to say:
My high school theater teacher, Mark Megill, taught me how to get out of myself, to have confidence. He gave me the ability to believe in myself while exploring creative mediums. Then I had a history teacher, Michael Hennessey, who gave me the space to think critically about the world from my own perspective. He let me question things and think in a whole different way. It was mind‑blowing. He gave me the space to challenge the world.
When I became an educator, those two teachers were always in the back of my mind. Because of them, I vowed to create a space that's safe—a space that allows people to create, to question, and to challenge.
- Emily Bonilla, High School Career and Technical Education-Media Production, Bloomfield Tech, Bloomfield, New Jersey
I can blame this all on my seventh grade life science teacher, Ms. Karen Pirrie. Her class was the first time I'd ever really been exposed to science. In elementary school the teachers were so focused on reading and math that we didn't do much science. I didn't even know I liked science until her class.
She was a very animated teacher, and even though she didn't have much in the way of supplies or microscopes or anything like that, she made class fun. She was also a very challenging teacher. I had always been a straight A student. I went in thinking, "I'm a straight A student, I know everything." But the first grade I got in her class was a D. It was the only D I’ve ever gotten in my entire life. It was an awakening. I thought, “Okay, I need to kick this into gear.”
- Heather Howle, 8th Grade STEM, West Feliciana Middle School, St. Francisville, Louisiana
Growing up, my mom was a junkie. My stepdad was an ex‑marine who was schizophrenic. I used to get beat. I'd come to school angry and sad, but the only person who ever reached out was my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Gumpart.
I was a class clown and he pulled me aside and said, "Son, you've got a gift. When you talk, everybody in my class stops listening to me and listens to you." He asked me, "Has anybody ever told you that you were special?"
I didn't really have any males in my life that would take the time out to tell me anything of substance. He became that man. We built this great relationship and because of him I went to college. Just this year I got my Master's degree. He inspired me to be the best that I could be.
- Eric Hale, 3rd Grade Math and Science, David G. Burnet Elementary, Dallas, Texas
I remember the little sayings my high school math teacher, Dr. Williams, would create in order for us to remember important concepts. Things like, "When you raise a power to a power, you multiply." To this day I remember that song. I even used it in my classroom. I borrowed a lot of my instructional strategies from her classroom.
- Carla McCall, 8th Grade Math, Crawford W. Long Middle School, Atlanta, Georgia
I had strong teachers growing up, but I’m more inspired by the development of certain kids that I've come across. One in particular is Omari. I met him my first year. At the time, he struggled to make good choices consistently and found himself being more disruptive than productive. Today, the growth he has made is phenomenal.
Here’s an example: One day, after having him in health class, I was walking some students out of the building and heard two kids talking about a boy with a red backpack. They said, "Let's jump him." Naturally, I was on high alert. Fitting the description, off in the distance, was Omari. He is a strong young man and when the kids arrived they started pushing him. But Omari didn’t fight. He talked his way out of the situation, stood up for himself, and the fight was over before it ever began. He never knew I was there until I praised him the next day for his growth and maturity.
- David Gesualdi, Pre-K – 8th Grade Physical Education and Health, The Walker Jones Education Campus, Washington, D.C.
My eleventh grade English teacher, Ms. Allison Novick, was a huge mentor to me. At the time I had a lot going on. I was bouncing between homes in Washington Heights and didn’t have a stable place to stay. She was an educator. She was a counselor. You name it. She was very open-minded and worked with my situation to tailor a curriculum that would be best for me. She understood I might not be able to turn in a paper, but I would stay after school to do as much of it as possible. She was also very real with me. She didn't hide behind a façade of intelligence.
I said to myself, "I want to do what she's doing for me.” Because if I didn't have her, I wouldn't be where I am now.
- Evelyn Rebollar, High School English, Bronx Arena High School, Bronx, New York
My tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Sloan, was very important to me. From the way she taught you could just tell she poured forth all her effort into each and every one of us. I think this is why I value relationships so much today. I still talk to her often. She’s just someone I can rely on. In my classroom, I tell my students I'm not their teacher just for the year, I'm their teacher for life. I tell them I'm an adult that they can rely on. I learned that from her.
- Jason Catanese, 7th and 8th Grade Math, Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School, Phoenix, Arizona
My advisor in college, Dr. Daniel Castro, held a really high bar for me. I was really struggling to come up with a thesis and he said, "You need to figure it out, not because I know you can do it, but because I want to see what you can create on your own."
That's the mentality I have when it comes to my students. I'm not going to give them the steps and lead them to the answer. Not because I know they can do it on their own, but because I'm interested in what they can do. I tell them, “Your brain is different than my brain. You deserve the time and space to figure out how your brain works and problem solve the way that makes sense to your brain.”
- Erica Stewart, 4th Grade Math, KIPP Excelencia Community Prep, Redwood City, California
My extremely creative fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Nueges, inspired me to become the teacher I am today. Her lessons included arts-integrated activities that tapped into my senses and made learning both memorable and meaningful. Her enthusiasm for teaching was contagious, and it was evident in the progress that all her students made. I remember thinking, “If I become a teacher someday, I'm going to make my classroom as exciting as hers.”
- Lavinia Draper, 3rd Grade Gifted/Accelerated ELA and Social Studies, U.B. Kinsey Palmview Elementary School of the Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida
In college, I worked for my religion professor, Dr. Ron Miller. We'd have all these debates and he always treated my opinion like it was as important as his. He made me believe in myself. Belief in someone else is the most precious gift you can give them. If somebody tells you, "I really believe in your greatness, I believe in you," it makes you walk taller. It makes you look at yourself differently in the mirror.
- Matthew Patterson, 12th Grade English, Benjamin Banneker High School, College Park, Georgia
Want to read more stories like this?
Respond to this Post
Your response is sent to us via email.
Never miss a post.
Get the TNTP Blog delivered straight to your inbox.