The best teachers do more than instruct; they encourage and inspire us to be all that we can be. When American Profile asked readers about their favorite teachers, more than 400 responded with tributes to educators and mentors who built confidence and character, provided advice and discipline, and influenced another generation of teachers. Here are excerpts from a few of those stories.
"As I was bedridden for a year during my elementary school years, my mother instilled in me a love for reading which made the time go by fast," wrote Paul Littler, 52, of Livonia, Mich., about his mother Marie Littler, 72, of Brandenton, Fla. "In my teenage years, she went on to get her teaching degree, and then used her teaching wages to put me and my sisters through college."
"Mae Bledsoe was a diminutive and aging first- and second-grade teacher at Brock School. She had the patience of Job and the compassion of Mother Teresa," wrote Larry M. Jones, 65, of Millsap, Texas. "Despite teaching two grades simultaneously in the same room, she always had time for each child's needs."
"Mr. Leonardo Perez Duarte was an extraordinary teacher of music-and life. For his young students, he found a balance. He knew exactly when to encourage and uplift young minds . . . and, yes, to 'drop the hammer' when it was needed," wrote Tony Aeilts, 52, of Chico, Calif. "Even more than beautiful music, he taught us to take care of each other, lead by example, do the right thing, lift up those who may lag behind and encourage those who try hard."
"In ninth grade, Mrs. Fisher wanted to teach us the power of concentration, so she slowly walked around the room during a test, cracking a wooden ruler on her big desk, opening and slamming the door, or pulling down a window shade and quickly letting it up so it flapped round and round," recalls Mrs. Lenny Sweet, 78, of Hulls Grove, Maine. "I'm not sure how many times she did this before I learned to ignore events around me and concentrate on the business at hand, but learn I did. I'm grateful to Mrs. Fisher because that ability has stayed with me all these years."
"Bill Boley taught all subjects that fourth-graders were required to take, and he did a good job of it. But he seemed to have a special love for spelling and wanted us to share that love," wrote Bernice Maddux, 83, of Weatherford, Texas. "In his capable hands, spelling took on new meaning. He breathed life into what had for me been the dullest period of the day. His love for words and their usage was contagious. It's doubtful he was aware of the tremendous influence he was having and would continue to have on our lives. If there are misspellings here, don't blame Mr. Boley."
"It was with a little fear and anxiety that I entered the third-grade classroom of Mrs. Netterblad, who had a reputation for being a very strict teacher," recalls Richard Emery, 61, of Rathdrum, Idaho. "Shortly after school started, she noticed that I squinted a lot when looking at the blackboard, so she sent a note home to my parents suggesting they take me to an eye doctor. Sure enough, I was nearsighted and it was glasses for me. From that time on, Mrs. Netterblad kept encouraging me and pushing me to do better. She knew that I wasn't stupid and did all that she could to bring the best out in me. That feisty teacher opened up a whole new world to me."
"My favorite teacher of all time was Mrs. Susan Drew. She was my second-grade teacher and is probably the greatest influence on my career choice," wrote Lauren Mullen, 18, of Westbrook, Maine, who plans to be an elementary school teacher. "She was a fantastic teacher in every sense of the word. She was expressive, energetic, kind, and above all, loved her job. She inspired curiosity in all of us. She had such a gift of transferring the job of learning to us in a way in which we never felt like we were doing work."
"When I entered our old one-room country school as a sixth-grader, I was met by Rosemary Holub. Her biggest asset was her interest in all 18 of us, ages 5 to 14. We were all country kids immersed in a depression economy," recalls Grace H. Zimmerman, 80, of Anamosa, Iowa. "On cold days, she used a hot plate to make hot soups, which we gratefully consumed to accompany our scant lunches. It was the first time that we ever tasted grapefruit, which Miss Holub obtained for us. We peeled them and ate them as we did oranges. One of the biggest mistakes in my life was that I waited too long to write Miss Holub a letter of appreciation to tell her of her positive effect on my life. I hope this will be a lesson to others to write a letter to your favorite teacher."
"The time with Mrs. Hodges was truly magical," wrote Joan R. Skiba, 62, a teacher at Woods Creek Elementary in Crystal Lake, Ill. "I stayed in during recess and late after school. Mrs. Hodges gave me her time, but most of all, she gave me her heart. With patience and kindness, she did, indeed, teach me to read. But more than that, she taught me that I was worthwhile. I never told Mrs. Hodges how much I loved her. It was not within my nature in those days. I hope somehow she knew."
In 1964, "the only light in my academic life was a very wonderful teacher, Mrs. Robbie Curry," wrote Cheryl Haydel, 61, of Waxahachie Texas. "I would go to her room after school and just visit with her. I know my 'woes' must have been boring to her as they consisted mostly of boyfriend problems, problems at home, etc., but she never failed to listen and give good, sound advice. I knew if I listened to her, things would always work out."
"My favorite teacher was my piano teacher, Mrs. Louise Belzer. I started lessons when I was 7 years old, and she always was very kind and understanding even when she knew I had not practiced," recalls Amy Kerns, 37, of Hayden, Idaho. "Even though I made a lot of mistakes, Mrs. Belzer never reprimanded me or was condescending to me. Instead, she always encouraged me to do my best. I can still hear her telling me, 'Whenever you make a mistake, just keep going. No one will ever know the difference.' I don't know if Mrs. Belzer knows what an impression she made on me or how grateful I am to have had such a caring and wonderful piano teacher. In my head, I thank her all the time."
"When I was 5 years old in 1975, I met a lady who would help shape my life forever. Her name was Mrs. Laurel Rosenthal, my kindergarten teacher. Her enthusiasm, devotion and love for her students made me immediately know I wanted to be a teacher," recalls Jennifer Simpson, 39, who today teaches second grade at Mark Twain Accelerated Elementary School in Carthage, Mo., where Rosenthal is the principal.
"When I was a young man I had some behavioral problems, and my parents were forced to transfer me to Cushing School in Delafield, Wisconsin, upon the advice of teacher Dale Hight. I can remember my father sitting me down and telling me if I got into trouble there, I better think twice about coming home," recalls Robert L. Becker, 72, of Helenville, Wis. "Well, it didn't take me long to test Mr. Hight, and before I knew it, I was ordered out of his classroom and told to go home. I was putting my jacket on to leave when Mr. Hight came into the coatroom and said to me, 'We both know what's waiting for you at home, don't we?' I nodded in agreement. Mr. Hight looked me in the eye and asked if I could learn to behave and keep my smart mouth quiet if he let me stay. I couldn't believe that he was willing to give me another chance. I told him I would change, and I did. I never had trouble in school again and went on to have a successful career in management, heading up a company for 34 years until my retirement. I will always be grateful that Mr. Hight came into my life."
"My sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Joan W. Minor taught us to think and dream beyond the school named McIntyre Elementary and Junior High. She had a way of reading that actually made us feel we were in the faraway places that she described. She stretched our minds and our imaginations," wrote Barbara Jones Tolliver, 58, of Vicksburg, Miss. "I realize today that Mrs. Minor used those experiences to teach us a lot more than the command of the English language and the love of poetry. She used those classroom lessons to teach us how to stand before an audience, how to enunciate our words, how to dress properly, and how to treat others with dignity and respect."
"I remember Mrs. Annie Boyd as being calm, kind and very professional," recalls Rhonda Brown, 50, a teacher in Orange, Texas. "I would often stay after school to help her in the room and she would bring me home. When you have a teacher who cares for her students, you seem to care more about your work in school and do the best you can."
"Ms. Sarah Barrett has had an impact on every area of my life. She strived to build self-esteem in each of her students. She personified and was a living example of what not only a lady, but a teacher should be," wrote Janet Broadwell, 58, of Hot Springs, Ark., about her home economics teacher from 1965 to 1968. "She taught us that food, clothing and shelter were the most important priorities of our life. She taught us honor and integrity. She taught us kindness by living kindness. She tried to teach us love by loving us."
"My most influential teacher would be Mr. Mullens. He is one of my favorite teachers and has taught me many life lessons," wrote Dylan Heitter, 14, an eighth-grader at Pecatonica (Ill.) Community Middle School. "I believe he is the coolest teacher and I always enjoy his classes. I hope that I will not forget everything he taught me."
"I was an extremely shy little girl when I entered the first grade at Highland Elementary School, but was very anxious to learn. Mrs. Annie Robinson recognized my shortcomings and would give me little classroom 'duties' to help me overcome my shyness with other students," wrote Connie Williams, 62, of Gastonia, N.C. "Because of her praise, inspiration and support, I learned to love learning and as a result became a 'lifetime learner.' I also learned to love and admire Mrs. Robinson."
"Every teacher becomes a teacher because of a teacher. I have been blessed to have two remarkable, generous and caring teachers who have been part of my life since I was 10 years old," wrote Kathy Meredith, 40, of Nine Mile Falls, Wash. "Mr. Dennis Nelson and Mr. Jack Ross inspired me to a career as an elementary music teacher."
"Her name was Elizabeth Katherine Snyder (better known as Bess Kate) and she was my fifth-grade teacher at Daniels Elementary School in Daniels, W.Va. I entered her class in September of 1943, a shy, skinny, nail-biter with the given name Jackie," recalls Jack Clark, 74, of Cleveland, Tenn. "On the first day of school, Bess Kate announced to me and the whole class that I was now too mature to be called Jackie, henceforth I should be called Jack. She also said that I was too much of a man to be biting my nails. Both pronouncements took root and prompted my entry into manhood. I'll never forget her."
"The teacher that played a pivotal role in my life was my eighth-grade teacher, Ms. Kay Hicks. I was only 14 and growing up in the local orphanage. It wasn't a bad place, but children need to matter, and Ms. Hicks treated me like I deserved more than a checkmark on a bedtime tally," recalls Theresa Constantineau, 56, of Mountain Home, Idaho. "She always gave me presents on Christmas and birthdays. She would have dinner with me at the orphanage on Sundays after church and praise my silly attempts at writing poetry. All my best hugs came from her. She was truly 'heaven-sent.'"
"Sister Mary Gilbert made a remarkable impact on my life and I am very thankful for her efforts forming my conscience," wrote David Zeiler, 44, of Bella Vista, Ark. "She had a reputation all over the Savannah (Ga.) area and was well known. Cancer took her life several decades ago, but her inspiration lives on in her students. The world has become a better place because of her religion's calling."
"In 1953, when I was a seventh-grader at Cadwallader Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, my history teacher, Ruth Ann Redman, told us about the Battle of Gettysburg," recalls Patricia L. Conway, 67, of Las Cruces, N.M. "I was entranced. Visions of the battle and the men shooting and dying filled my imagination. When Miss Redman finished the lesson, I sat transfixed in my desk. At that moment I thought, 'I want to do what she just did.' Then and there, I knew I was going to be a teacher."
"One of my favorite teachers was Dr. Patricia Roberts from Rivier College," wrote Joan M. LaFlamme, 79, of Nashua, N.H. "I was 67 years old when I entered my first year in college; it was a dream I had since I graduated from high school. Ten years later, I finally graduated with a bachelor's degree in individual studies. Dr. Roberts gave me confidence and encouraged me to keep going."
"The most important lessons that Mrs. Rhodes taught me was the day she talked about attitude and beauty in the world. She said we had to be responsible for our own happiness. We determined how others treated us," wrote Linda Geist, 69, of Salina, Kan., about her fifth-grade teacher. "She challenged us to go home and smile at everyone, be polite to them and to care about the people around us. She said there is beauty in everything and everybody if only we look for it. What a wonderful lady, and what a wonderful life I have had because of her."
"When I was in fifth grade I had a teacher named Ida Wike," recalls Rozella A. Wolfe, 86, of Columbia City, Ind. "She taught us a verse, which I never forgot."
Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Until the good is better
And the better is best
"In 1962 I was a sad and discouraged 12-year-old who hated school," wrote Marjorie Sychowski, 59, of Woodstock, Ill. "All that changed on the first day of sixth grade when I walked into the classroom and met my teacher, Miss Janet Higgins. She was funny and smart and loved teaching and learning. Because of her, my outlook changed and I began to love school."
"Saranne W. Richards, a home economics teacher in the Tamaqua Area (Pa.) School District, was my favorite teacher when I was in eighth grade. Portraying a 'perfect' image, she was immaculately groomed, carried herself proudly, enunciated each word, and organized our classroom time and tasks with precision and accuracy," wrote Louise Dietrich, 63, of Pottsville, Pa. "Her dedication to her subject matter and to her students inspired me to follow in her footsteps and pattern my teaching style after hers. At 79, she still makes a difference in my life and we are now best friends."
"When I was in my freshman year, my favorite teacher, band director George Steele, came into my life. He encouraged me to try out for head majorette and I ended up becoming high school band leader my sophomore, junior and senior years," recalls Arlene K. Halsey, 63, of Kendallville, Ind. "I never had a lot of self-confidence until Mr. Steele started telling me to believe in myself. I will be eternally grateful to him for his support, patience and leadership.&q ot;
"I am an 82-year-old woman who has difficulty carrying a tune, but because of my favorite teacher, Miss Edna Hardy, I love classical music. In fact, that's all I listen to," wrote Mrs. Jessie B. Lewis of Ogden, Utah.
"My favorite teacher was my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Shaw. She was the first teacher who made me feel special. She admired my penmanship, and even taped one of my papers up in the front of the classroom, telling the other students that they 'could take a lesson from Rosemary's nice neat writing,'" recalls Rose Bellen, 53, of Schenevus, N.Y. "She was strict but caring, and after 45 years, I still remember her fondly. I would love to be able to thank her."
"It's been a long time, and my memory is dim in some areas, but I'll never forget the best teacher I ever hadMrs. Marie Griffithin the small coal-mining town of Bellwood, W.Va." wrote Jewell Fox Duvall, 68, of Arlington, Va. "Mrs. Griffith taught grades one through six in a one-room schoolhouse, and she was loved and respected by students and parents alike in the economically depressed area. In addition to teaching the three Rs, she taught cooperation, responsibility, pride, respect for authority, cleanliness, patriotism, the value of good character, and even embroidery."