It’s Teacher Appreciation Week – an important time to give thanks for the many amazing teachers in our lives, both past and present. Great teachers often change lives forever, by recognizing our potential, setting high expectations, and inspiring us to do our best and follow our dreams.

Each of us at Expect More Arizona wrote about a memorable teacher in our life and we encourage you to do the same. Read our reflections below and then please tell us about an educator who has made a difference in your life in the comments section below! 

Dexter Albert: I have had many great teachers in my life. However, the most recent hero I also had the pleasure of calling my professor was Peggy Pavlich. I took several courses with her as an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University. It was during my junior year, in her course on strategic planning, that I truly “got” my studies and understood how the material I was learning would apply to my future work in the public relations/community outreach field. Before that course I can truly say I had started to struggle in college, but her teaching reignited my passion for my studies and I cruised through the next year-and-a-half (including summer school) to finish my baccalaureate degree with nearly straight-A’s. I did mention this to Ms. Pavlich years later, in passing, but I have wanted to tell her more meaningfully just how much she impacted me!

Donna Picture1 Donna Davis: Ms. Hollen Smith is my latest favorite teacher because she teaches my 9-year-old grandson, Tyler, who is in 4th grade at Wagon Wheel Elementary School in Trabuco Canyon, CA.  My daughter always tells me stories about Ms. Smith.  For instance, Ms. Smith describes herself as a 9-year-old boy trapped in a grown woman’s body.  For that reason, Ms. Smith understands the attention span of an energetic boy.  If she notices that the students are getting fidgety, she gives them all a 5 minute brain break and the students get to go outside for a walk or toss a ball around the room for awhile.  Tyler has learned about rocks and minerals, how to do fractions and a bunch of different ways to do division.  For Tyler’s cultural quest project, he went to a Korean barbeque restaurant with his family and learned about Korea, where Grandpa was stationed in 1997.  In addition, Ms. Smith often communicates with my daughter and is always positive about Tyler.  She says things like, “Tyler is a valuable participant in classroom discussions. “  Ms. Smith also tells my daughter that Tyler is wise!  It’s so wonderful to have a teacher that always finds the positive in students and most importantly, communicates with parents. Tyler loves Ms. Smith because she likes zombies and of all the teachers Tyler has had so far, Ms. Smith is the best.

Pearl Chang Esau: My favorite high school teacher was Ms. Lee.  She taught our school’s AP calculus class, and she was a wonderful role model for me, both because she shared my ethnic heritage and because she was a proud female mathematician.  Teachers like Ms. Lee helped me to believe in my own potential.

Erin Eccleston: Becoming a first generation college graduate had many challenges. Some of the greatest hurdles came well before my first day at Penn State. While my parents always encouraged me to attain a college degree, I didn’t have many adults in my life who could help me navigate the college planning, preparation, exploration and application processes. In fact, most of the adults I knew who had college degrees were my teachers. One teacher, in particular, not only challenged me academically to prepare me for college, but she also helped me learn about different universities and programs, the application process, and even critiqued my writing sample. That teacher was my junior AP English teacher, Ms. Leone. Her investment in my future and the time she took to guide me still evokes a sense of gratitude today. I often wonder if I would have pursued the same path without her guidance. While my parents planted the initial seeds of high expectations and encouragement, my teachers, like Ms. Leone, gave me the tools to achieve my goals. Thank you, Ms. Leone!

Dan ZollarsJeff Goodman: I had many incredible teachers growing up, but Dan Zollars was in a league of his own. Mr. Zollars was our choir teacher, and taught us a lot about music and performing, but, more than any other teacher, he taught us how to be independent thinkers, good citizens, and responsible collaborators. He taught us to find humor in everything, and he expected excellence from each of us, in and out of his own classroom. There is no question that my classmates and I, along with countless other former students, are better people and more successful today for having been in Mr. Zollars’ choirs. Although he is no longer with us, we strive to live up to his memory and to be the people he expected us to be.

Erin Hart: My son’s day care teachers have set high expectations since day one. In his classroom, Ms. Varinder’s mantra is that all of her boys will get a good education, go to college, and get good jobs. I love that even though he is in the infant classroom, my son’s teacher has such high expectations for him – and not just for my son, but all of the kids in the class. The results may be 20 years away, but Ms. Varinder is already laying the foundation for his life ahead. Thank you to Ms. Varinder and to all of the teachers in the infant classroom for having such high expectations!

Jaclyn Hoerner: I was privileged to have one of my favorite teachers for both second and fifth grade. Miss Rumi made learning fun and had a seemingly endless number of creative ways to teach us. One of my favorite activities was our daily journal time. She would share a topic or question for us to write about and each day after school, she would read all 30+ journal entries and write an individual response. She also encouraged us to write anything else that came to mind. One time, I remember writing down a list of my top 10 favorite things and asked her what hers were. The next day, I excitedly opened my journal to read her list and to my surprise, at the bottom of the list read “You!” Miss Rumi was passionate about teaching and truly loved her students. She inspired me to explore the world around me, to care for others, and to try my best every day. I will forever be grateful to her and to the other amazing teachers I have had throughout my schooling. I would definitely not be where I am today without them!

Gus Chavez Selena Llamas: Throughout my life, I had the opportunity to have some amazing teachers and mentors who have taken their time to invest in my success. I met one of my favorite teachers years ago in college. His name is Mr. Gus Chavez and he was a Pima College instructor and department chairperson of Languages, Social and Cultural Studies. The first class I took with him was History of Mexican Americans in the Southwest. I was so impressed with his teaching style and the rich content he developed for the course that I decided to take a second class with him the following semester. I especially enjoyed how he challenged his students to think critically and encouraged us to be contributing members of society. I had the honor of developing a great relationship with Mr. Chavez. If not for his recommendation, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to be selected as an intern for the Hispanic Association of College and Universities in Milwaukee, WI. I hope he knows how much I appreciate the support and encouragement he gave a first generation college student 15 years ago.

Melissa Lempke: My first great memory of school and teachers started before I even entered Kindergarten. At 4-years-old, I was crushed to learn I couldn’t get on the bus and join my older brother, Matt, when he started school. After days of tears – and likely stubborn tantrums – my mom decided there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t sit at the kitchen table with the two of them while she went over with Matt everything he had learned that day. She went so far as to make copies of “worksheets” he brought home so that I, too, could trace letters, draw shapes and more. I’m so grateful to my mom, and my dad, for encouraging my love for learning at an early age. Their continued support, ongoing involvement and high expectations made all the difference in my education, from Pre-K through college.

Shelly Levi: One of my most memorable teachers came at the very end of my K-12 education here in Arizona. Ms. Dempsey taught a very unique English class, completely different from the typical English classes most students had been used to. Her Humanities class was unlike any class I’d ever taken. She immersed her students in classic literature, art, architecture, and theater. We discussed philosophy and were encouraged to have conversations about the different cultures we learned about. Her class allowed us to think deeper about ourselves, the past, and the world we lived in. She pushed us to think critically about the plays we read and the art we admired. For me, Ms. Dempsey instilled a love of art that continued with me throughout college and into my adult life. Her class made me want to travel the world and visit all of the wonderful things I have learned about. I can always look to this class as the spark for so many of my current interests. I hope my child is able to have a teacher like Ms. Dempsey who helps to uncover her own interests and passion.

Mom School Picture Christie Silverstein: For more than three decades, I have been fortunate enough to not only grow up with my favorite teacher, but to also call her Mom. She taught me some of life’s greatest lessons – love, kindness, gratitude, courage, honesty, acceptance, dignity and fairness. She also gave me advice on how to raise my own son and make sure he was challenged and meeting every developmental milestone. She was an early childhood educator and started a preschool/elementary school with a family friend after my older sister was born. She wanted to give her children the best education possible. I started attending school with my mom when I was 2½ years old and although she purposely avoided being my classroom teacher directly, she always reinforced everything I learned during the day when we got home. She was an avid supporter of literacy and instilled my love for reading at a young age. Her five grandkids have a tremendous collection of books which she single handedly created with each holiday, birthday and “just because” present. Although she passed away recently, I’ll never take for granted the time I spent with my mom and will treasure everything she taught me about life.

What teachers have changed your life for the better? Let us know and say thank you in the comments below.
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