There are many good teachers who do what they’re hired to do — they teach. But then there are the teachers who elevate their profession to the next level. These are the teachers who inspire. They bring their own experiences and wisdom to the classroom and, rather than telling their students what to do (and how to do it), they teach them how to think. They teach them to ask questions, and to search for their own answers. They teach them to be present, engaged, and aware. Leading by their own example, these teachers inspire their young charges to go out into the world and pay it forward, by inspiring and empowering others.
These are the teachers who treat their classroom like a garden in the making. They plant the seeds. They nurture the garden, recognizing and appreciating the unique nature of each flower. Then, they stand back and watch with wonder, as the garden takes on a shape and character of its own.
It is this brand of high caliber teachers who we, as adults remember with fondness, respect and profound gratitude… years, and even decades later.
I can count my most inspirational teachers on one hand. There were five. These men and women, unbeknownst to them, had a great impact on my life.
And, yes, I am going to name names.
In elementary school (Grade 6): Philip Ploplis, of Lithuanian descent, had just graduated from Teacher’s College. We were his very first students and he was our Homeroom teacher. He treated us as a classroom of individuals and spent considerable one-on-one time with us, in an effort to bring out the best in each student. He wanted to prepare us for high school and beyond. He knew our weaknesses and our strengths. He was one of the few adults who actually cared about what we thought, what we dreamed of doing, and he took great pains to guide us in the right direction, so that our interests could take shape. Thank you, Mr. Ploplis.
In high school: Barbara Friand, an ex-nun and free-thinker, was my Humanities teacher. She taught us to embrace diversity, to open up our minds, and to recognize that there were infinite possibilities. She taught us hope, respect, and she taught us how to listen — to each other and to ourselves. Most importantly, she taught us to understand — with complete certainty — that although each of us is different, we are, in fact, all the same. We are humans. This woman leads my list of five inspirational teachers. I would have loved to have known her in my adult years. Oh, the interesting conversations we would have had! Miss Friand, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
In college: Victor Garaway, a professional dancer from South Africa, taught us theatre. At this time in my life, I was actually quite shy and quiet. He was a mercurial teacher who intimidated most students, but not me. I realized that his Svengali-like method of teaching had one objective: to dare us to excel and to weed out the ones who didn’t even want to bother. It is in his class that I finally found my voice. And I’ve been speaking ever since. Thank you, Professor Garaway.
In university: John Hellman, a quiet but passionate intellectual, taught me history. Specifically, the history of European intellectual thought. More specifically, he opened my mind (and heart) to the world of 20th century French intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Mounier, Albert Camus, Simone Weil, and Simone de Beauvoir. This is the world I feel most comfortable in … a generation of philosophical thinkers who, in turn, have had a major influence on the way I think, on how I view the world. Merci infiniment, Prof. Hellman.
Finally, in Graduate school: Linda Ghan, a quiet yet intense writer and author, taught me to write better. In her creative writing class, students dissected their work — amicably. The objective was to embrace our individual writing styles, but fine-tune our skills. She shared her wisdom and knowledge with us and, with her guidance, we learned the important art of self-editing. It truly is an art. Clearly, I haven’t mastered it yet. It’s a work in progress. Thank you, Linda.
These are the teachers who most inspired me.
Who has inspired you? Share your stories with us!
On a different note (perhaps not so different, as Barbara Friand would probably say), I came across an interesting website that provides information and classroom materials for teachers to teach their students about important world issues like hunger and peace. Interested teachers and parents should check out The Hunger Site at:
It’s Day 3 of my Help Fight Hunger book promotion. Hope springs eternal.
Image via theguardian (photo credit: Alamy).