#thankateacher: Why We Do What We Do

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! All of us at New America have been touched by amazing educators—teachers that helped us, inspired us, and influenced us to work toward a better education for all students. We know you have too. So remember to #thankateacher this week. Here are some we will never forget.

Laura Bornfreund: My sister, Mrs. Curry, an elementary school music teacher in Florida, is one of the most passionate and dedicated teachers I know. She has spent her career working in elementary schools, serving children from low-income families. It’s not just that she spends hours planning lessons, learning how to use new technology in her classroom, finding funding for special projects, she cares deeply about her students and music. Mrs. Curry works hard to build her students’ understanding and love of music, making the 30 minutes or so she has with them each week chock full of learning. And she works with the other teachers in the school to make sure that her lessons are connected with theirs. I visited her just a few weeks ago during her spring break. She was so excited to show me new lessons and materials she had already started developing for next year when Florida transitions to new music standards. Her excitement and passion are infectious, and I have no doubt her students benefit greatly from having her as a teacher and as a role model.

 

Conor Williams: I had several truly outstanding teachers in Michigan’s public schools. All of them set an unapologetically high bar for their students, but they justified them with a scaffolded, aligned plan for the year that helped us live up to their standards. For me, these were teachers like Mr. Cahow (high school history), Mr. Sinclair (high school physics), Ms. Knudstrup (3rd grade), and Ms. Hodges (middle school science).

They were all outstanding, but Ms. Ransford stands alone. I transferred into her British Literature class halfway through my (garden-variety traumatic) freshman year in high school. It changed everything.

I transferred into her British Literature class halfway through my (garden-variety traumatic) freshman year in high school. It changed everything.

It was the first high school class I’d ever loved. In part, this was because Ms. Ransford gave us anxious, uncomfortable adolescents license to love what we were reading. She could be every bit as sarcastic as us, but at she had no patience for apathy. So she shouted, and sang, and made us share our work–loudly–with our just-as-embarrassed peers until we learned to enjoy it. For the first time, I saw that something I’d always loved–words and old books full of them–could be just as exciting at school as at home. And so, over several classes over several years, Ms. Ransford taught me to love Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, poetry, and so much more. She’s a big part of why I became a writer.

 

Anne Hyslop: “You are the beast teacher!”

That just about sums up the work that Miss Hyslop, my sister, does every day with her elementary school students. She works relentlessly to ensure each of her young pupils feel challenged, engaged, and respected—but most of all, she teaches them to love learning. How do I know? I can see it in the YouTube videos she makes, the examples of student work peppered around her classroom, and the notes she has from former students and parents. Some teachers would be content to do the same things, year after year, but not my sister. She is always working to become better, whether it’s through formal classes, trying the approach of a colleague down the hall, or listening and learning from her students to shape her lessons and give them more responsibility for their learning. She is kind (and far more patient than me), but also tough and determined—even when that means a new school, new subjects, and new students to teach. This 1st grader probably meant to write “best.” But to me, my sister is not just the best, she’s also the beast.

Melissa Tooley: Sue Lore’s passion for U.S. History was contagious. While some teachers may have difficulty convincing high school students that something that happened a hundred years ago is relevant to their lives, Ms. Lore did not. Through lectures and interactive discussions, she painted vivid pictures of the social, cultural and political aspects that impacted the events of the time periods we were exploring in ways that drew students into that epoch as if it were yesterday.

Her approach to instruction allowed us, as students, to be able to explain not only what happened, and when, but why. Assignments and tests bolstered this approach, as they included essays that required us to reflect on, and provide evidence of, the factors that led to historical events. By asking us to truly process the information we were learning—as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating it—I internalized the content from Ms. Lore’s class in ways that I did not in others’. While she ran a tight ship of a class, she made it clear to each of her students that she cared about them and their learning. She also helped me appreciate that the events of the past can help us better understand our current events and situations, a point that has continued to influence my thinking throughout the decades since. My experiences in Ms. Lore’s classroom motivate me in my daily work to ensure that every student in the nation will have the opportunity to learn from teachers like her.

 

Owen Phillips: Mrs. Hohansee, my third grade teacher, won’t let me forget about her. I realized she was different after she scheduled home visits for every student in her classroom at the beginning of the school year. She brought a clipboard to interview both me and my parents and to lay out her expectations of me. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that year would be her last as a full time teacher.

After moving states (twice), graduating high school and college, and entering graduate school, Mrs. Hohansee continues to write me a letter once a year to fill me in on her life and to comment on how proud she is of the progress I’ve made since leaving her classroom.

A couple of years after I left elementary school, I received a personal letter from Mrs. Hohansee that asked how I was doing and what I was learning in middle school. That letter meant a lot to me even as a too-cool-for-school 5th grader. After moving states (twice), graduating high school and college, and entering graduate school, Mrs. Hohansee continues to write me a letter once a year to fill me in on her life and to comment on how proud she is of the progress I’ve made since leaving her classroom. I can’t think of a more appropriate person to thank on this day. Thanks, Mrs. Hohansee.

 

Clare McCann: I never attended the school where my favorite teacher worked, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t teach me plenty. Clare Hennigan–a family friend, my godmother, and yes, my namesake–has taught fourth-grade for as long as I can remember (and then some). Among her greatest accomplishments over those 25+ years: teaching kids who grow up tubing down the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania the name of that river. Each year, every student is assigned a state to research, write reports about, and, ultimately, cook food for which the state is known.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been to her class’s State Foods Day, where I learned more about the crops and exports of each state than I did even as an intern in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. And her students know more than just major rivers for their states and for Pennsylvania; they can tell you the state bird (the ruffed grouse), state flower (the mountain laurel), and even the state nickname (the Keystone State)–and after State Foods Day, so can I!

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

Laura Bornfreund

Laura Bornfreund is deputy director for New America's Early Education Initiative. Before joining New America, Ms. Bornfreund consulted for a number of education policy organizations including the Forum for Education & Democracy, Institute for Educational Leadership, and Common Core. She began her career as a 4th grade teacher. Ms. Bornfreund holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.