Memories of Our Favorite Teachers

Miss Nelson is Back

While people love to swap stories about the infamous teachers they didn’t like, of far more importance are the wonderful teachers whose lessons have stayed with us. This month Barnes & Noble is celebrating our hardworking, life-changing teachers with Educator Appreciation Days (April 12th-20th). We thought we’d kick it off with a few tales of our favorite teachers. What teachers do you remember best?

My small, Episcopal, all-girls school was not a place you’d imagine finding a retired United States Marine teaching Ethics to a bunch of spoiled 15 year olds. Nevertheless, Colonel Trimble (or just “Colonel,” as many of us called him) was kind of an Upper School mascot. I have no idea how old he was, but at the time, “old” was old enough. He often shouted at us, like a sergeant in the barracks, which at first startled us and then made us laugh. He had a Marine Corps insignia on his classroom wall. In the middle of the year, we had a two-week term called Mini-mester. Colonel taught a class on military history; the Civil War, perhaps. I’ll always remember looking out the window and seeing him leading about a dozen girls in marching formation across the center green like it was Gettysburg. I’ll also never forget the day we discussed the book Hiroshima, about the atomic bombing of the Pacific during World War II. He was too young to have served in that war, but he had served in Korea, and his face twisted and eyes misted as he told us of the time he heard a pilot who had been shot down calling for his mother in the moments before his death. For once, our class was completely silent. Many of us had probably never seen a grown man, even our fathers, so exposed before. Colonel retired shortly after I graduated, but we’ve emailed. He taught me about ethics and honesty, but also, that day, about strength in vulnerability. For that, he’ll always be one of my favorite teachers. –Kathryn Williams

Ninth grade was the worst year of my life. Acne afflicted me like a biblical plague, and my father lost his job, which made my already depressing existence exponentially worse, living every day under a cloud of financial crisis. But my English teacher—Mr. John Kane—was my savior. The coolest teacher in my junior high school, he had a beard and played the saxophone—sometimes during class. He was also the teacher who galvanized my love for reading, particularly science fiction and fantasy. The day he read Ray Bradbury’s classic short story, “The Long Rain,” in class, something deep inside me ignited and, 30 years later, that fire still burns. I’ve been a book reviewer for the last two decades and I can honestly say that Mr. Kane and his love of reading changed the course of my life. –Paul Goat Allen

Mrs. Zagone quizzed us every morning—and we loved it. She used trivia, word games, and puzzles to get a class full of sleepy ten year olds active and awake. To get us excited about books, she had us dress up as characters from our favorite novels, and she read to us from Roald Dahl. During sex ed, she answered our shyest questions. Once, as a reward, she invited students to a pool party at her house. During our re-staging of the 1992 Presidential Debate, I pushed through stage fright to play Bill Clinton. But the best part of fifth grade was how comfortable she made me feel as myself. –Ester Bloom

I didn’t know Mr. Breuker, my Latin high school teacher, was the best teacher in the universe until my brains were fully developed. Since I was a pretty poor student and he was known for being strict, I thought he hated me, as well as some of the other crappy students. He could be very stern and was known to throw hard-covered dictionaries at sleeping students. (Not really at them, but in their direction.) But he also had a hearty laugh, and shiny eyes that always made my day, and his jokes lightened even the most uncomfortable academic situations (i.e. me getting a 59% on a test, which totally happened). I always had this feeling that he would really go to bat for his students. That you had a friend in Mr. B. And in retrospect, he didn’t hate us, he loved us. He loved us so, so much, and I get that now. And in retrospect, although I truly sucked in Latin, I will never, ever forget listening to Mr. Breuker read from The Odyssey. He’d pause in between his booming, spirited reading in Latin and say, “Can you hear the chariots as they come around the bend, Laurena? Can you hear the horses?” And the way he read to us, I swear I could. God. I am actually crying right now. I don’t think there will ever be another teacher like Mr. B. –Lauren Passell

As a child I loved to draw, and one of my favorite subjects was art—in a large part because of the art teacher I had from 4th through 8th grade—Roni McLeod. Roni (yes, we got to call our teachers by their first names in my school, it was the best) taught her classes in a very unusual way. Rather than making kids work on a specific project in whatever specific medium she thought they should, she encouraged her students to use the tools they wanted—charcoal, cray-pas, pastels, paint, pencils, pens, oils, or clay—to work on whatever they were interested in that day. Did you feel like drawing cats? Robots? Cityscapes? Were you really into using watercolor to paint huge blocks of color? Well then Roni wanted you to do just that—and she would stop by your table a few times every class to comment on what you were doing (and always managed to work in a little art history in the process: “I like what you did with that chair in the corner. Very impressionist. Let me tell you a little bit about impressionism.”) Roni let every kid work at their own pace, on whatever they were passionate about, and we loved it—and it made us love art. –Molly Schoemann-McCann

What teacher has made a huge impression on you?

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