13 Inspirational Teachers, Past and Present
Who taught you how to read wonderful words like “smile” and to appreciate great literature? Who taught you how to add, find the diameter of a circle, and calculate a tip? Who taught you how to play an instrument, or hit a baseball? Who brought the Revolutionary War to life in your imagination?
Great Teachers Inspire Kids And Show Them Learning Can Be Fun
Great teachers bring out talents, unlock doors, and inspire us to do our very best. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we celebrate just a representative few of the teachers who inspire us from the past and present.
- Anne Sullivan – Annie Sullivan taught Helen Keller to read, write, and feel – a remarkable achievement considering Keller was blind and deaf, and Sullivan herself was blind. Sullivan taught Keller words by signing them into her palm. The first word Keller learned was “doll.”
Quotable Quote: “My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!”
- Jacques Barzun – Barzun was a French-born Historian and American teacher. He obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia and taught history there for over two decades. For years, he ran Columbia’s renowned Great Books course along with literary critic Lionel Trilling. Barzun wrote the controversial book Teacher in America and received the Teacher Award of the Society of Columbia Graduates in absentia.
Quotable Quote: “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
- Jaime Escalante – You’ve probably seen movies about idealistic teachers who reach troubled inner city youths to the surprise of their principal and peers. For a real-life tale of a teaching hero, look no further than Bolivia-born math teacher, Escalante. He had spectacular success teaching advanced mathematics to troubled youth in Los Angeles, becoming the inspiration for the movie Stand and Deliver. Escalante began teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles in the 1970’s. In the beginning, Escalante was a principal’s worst nightmare. He showed up late, left early, and failed to raise funds for Advanced Placement tests. But his bad habits changed when he started teaching his first calculus class in 1979. The class started with five students, two of whom passed the Advanced Placement test. By 1981, class size increased to 15 students, 14 of whom passed. In 1987 and at the peak of his program, 73 students passed the A.P. calculus exam. His many awards include the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education.
Quotable Quote: “…Teaching is touching life.”
- Dr. Randy Pausch – Dr. Pausch was an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, the founder of the Alice software project, co-founder of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, and the author of many books. Pausch taught his students to never give up and to never fear failure. He gave a First Penguin award each year to the “biggest failure” in class because he thought “failing spectacularly” should be celebrated. The award is called First Penguin because First Penguins jump in before everyone else and risk that the water might be too cold. Dr. Pausch won a number of awards for his achievements in computing education. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Pausch gave an inspirational lecture entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams“, also known as “The Last Lecture.” Pausch died in 2008.
Quotable Quote: “Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre.”
- Rafe Esquith – No matter where you teach, getting kids to actively participate in their own education is an accomplishment. But in a neighborhood ridden with gun violence, vandalism, and drugs, it’s miraculous. Rafe Esquith, the author of There are No Shortcuts and Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, got his fifth graders to show up voluntarily at 6:30 each morning – two full hours before the rest of the school! Esquith teachers at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles (the second-largest elementary school in the U.S.) and his students consistently score at the top 5% to 10% of the country in standardized tests. Teaching awards include the Walt Disney American Teacher Award for National Teacher of the Year and Parents magazine’s national As You Grow Award, among others. He has set up a fund to give his award money to his school and his students. Esquith also founded the Hobart Shakespeareans – young students who have performed Shakespeare’s works all over L.A. and in London.
Quotable Quote: “Never use fear as a shortcut for education.”
- LouAnne Johnson – She’s a writer, teacher, and former Marine. Johnson believes in encouraging students, not condemning or threatening. Her method really works. She has seen phenomenal success with her students, including higher self-esteem, G.P.As, and class retention. She’s not afraid to speak out about problems in the school system and eagerly shares the secrets to her success. The “Queen of Education” (one of her book titles) has authored several books, including My Posse Don’t Do Homework, which was later adapted in the film Dangerous Minds, The Girls in the Back of the Class, Teaching Outside the Box, and School is Not a Four-Letter Word.
Quotable Quote: “In exactly one week, I’d watch “my kids” walk across that stage…a diploma in one hand and a piece of my heart in the other.”
- Joe Louis Clark – The former principal of Paterson, New Jersey’s Eastside High School, Joe Clark used unconventional (and controversial) disciplinary methods to grapple with troubled youth. After two years of Joe as principal, the once turbulent school was declared a model institution by the New Jersey Governor. Clark is the subject of the film Lean on Me and was once featured on the cover of Time Magazine wielding a baseball bat. The headline reads: “If tough love is your thing, you can find a lot to love about Joe Clark.”
Quotable Quote: “…every day, pride in self and school must be reinforced. Every day, the value of academics must be demonstrated.”
- Ron Clark – Ron Clark worked with disadvantaged students in rural North Carolina and Harlem, New York City. Clark’s innovative, quirky teaching methods and his talent for turning textbooks into rap songs earned him many accolades, including the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year award. He created the 55 Classroom Rules and founded The Ron Clark Academy, a non-profit school in Atlanta that gives low-income students a chance to travel internationally and offers training workshops for other teachers. His students created a song, “Vote However You Like,” and were invited to perform at the 2009 Inauguration of President Obama.
Quotable Quote: “When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying “Yes ma’am” or “No sir.”
- Erin Gruwell – Gruwell taught at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Her first semester got off to a bad start, but Gruwell never gave up. She broke down barriers and prejudices throughout her teaching career. She encouraged every student to keep a journal, related Romeo and Juliet to a gang war, and helped students make movies about their lives. Gruwell bought books out of her own pocket and took her classroom to see Schindler’s List. In 1995, she gave each student a bag a books and made a toast for change. The 2007 film Freedom Writers is based on Erin Gruwell’s teaching triumphs. In the spring, all 150 of Gruwell’s Freedom Writers went on to graduate, shocking administrators who had thought they were destined to drop out.
Quotable Quote: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you tell kids they’re stupid – directly or indirectly – sooner or later they start to believe it.”
- Confucius – We could not write about great teachers without mention of Confucius. As a philosopher and educator, Confucius imparted wisdom that rings through the ages. He greatly emphasized study and believed in the power of education. Confucius spent his last years teaching.
Quotable Quote: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
- (actually – 11-13!) DreamBox Teachers – This list would be incomplete without crediting the other amazing, experienced teachers on our team: Beth, Laura, and Mickelle. Together, we’re the brains behind our math game’s robust curriculum. In fact Lou Gray, our CEO, says “DreamBox Teachers are Start-up Warriors” (read his post)!
Our list includes recognized teachers, but every day excellent unknown educators are making all the difference in students’ lives. We thank them all for giving their students the tools to make their dreams realities.
Please comment below and thank a teacher who helped shape your success. It could be an extraordinary educator from your own academic career or your child’s favorite teacher.
DreamBox Learning’s Teacher Appreciation Offer
Because we sincerely appreciate the hard work of teachers, we’re offering qualified teachers a free DreamBox subscription for their classroom. The offer ends June 30, 2009, so if you’re a teacher sign up for a free DreamBox Math Classroom subscription so your whole class can play our online math game. Your kids will thank you!