Your Stories

Who inspired you to become an educator?

Submitted by: Mary Warren

As a child, I grew up in a home where drugs, alcohol and absent parents were the everyday norm. Education wasn’t viewed as something we needed. Neither of my parents had finished school, let alone college.

As a middle schooler, I attended Pipkin Jr. High School in Springfield, Missouri. This is where I met “The Mr. Jersak.” As an eighth grader I took his English class and was on the student newspaper. Mr. Jersak encouraged me as a student to try harder and live outside the box. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to be an English teacher. Mr. Jersak helped me to understand how I didn’t have to be another statistic, I could achieve anything.

When I finished middle school my interaction with Mr. Jersak and his family didn’t end. I continued to spend time with them at school functions. They helped me join clubs and the band at my school. In my parents’ absence, the Jersak’s attended every performance, award ceremony, sport and even took me to dances. While these may seem minor to some, this encouragement changed my life. I had never had anyone who was proud of me and encouraged me.

After high school I encountered difficulties, and instead of going straight to school, I went to work. I always remembered the encouragement Mr. Jersak had given me and how he knew I could accomplish more.

So, as a non-traditional student, I went back to school. I still worked, and at this point I had a family, but I didn’t give up because I wanted to prove Mr. Jersak right.

Five and a half years later, I finished my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I know that the only reason I’m here today is because of teachers like Mr. Jersak. The simple act of taking time to treat me like I mattered and encouraging me has made me a more compassionate instructor and I strive to pass it on to my students. Mr. Jersak will always be my hero.

Submitted by: Melissa Troiano

I’m sure not many people remember first grade. However, if you had a teacher like I did, you’d never forget it.

Miss Durison (maiden name at that time) was my first grade teacher. I had not attended kindergarten at the same school so I remember feeling a little uneasy about not having friends when I started. Miss Durison made me feel welcome immediately. Her classroom was a family. All were included. All felt special. She modeled kindness in her daily actions and we in turn treated each other kindly. Yes, she taught me to read, along with many other important academics, but what I remember most about her is that she made us all feel loved and valued.

Things went full circle when I went for my first job interview. Miss Durison-Stouch was on the interview committee. As nervous as I was, seeing her there once again brought back so many fond memories. I knew even if I did not get that position that I was meant to see her that day to remind me of what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Fortunately, I did get that position and had the amazing opportunity to teach in the kindergarten class right next to her kindergarten class. My professional role model was now my mentor.

That year I watched as she was awarded “Elementary Teacher of the Year” for our school district. Ten years later, she presented that same award to me. She has since retired and I hope to continue her legacy of creating classrooms filled with love and kindness.

Submitted by: Teresa Robinson

There were many things in my life that persuaded me to become a teacher. As an elementary student, I recall acting as a teacher and pretending my dolls were my students. It’s really strange that I had a desire and love to teach at such an early age.

I wasn’t the brightest student. Quite frankly, I struggled academically in school from kindergarten to sixth grade. At the age of nine I was asked by my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Kelly, if I wanted to return to the ‘special group’ since I was not succeeding in the general education class. I would have to return to the small group. I felt there was no place for me. I failed all of my spelling tests in the regular group but made passing scores in the remedial group. To make matters worse, my mom informed me Ms. Kelly thought I should be retained another year. My mom refused and I was placed in Ms. Drake’s fifth grade class the next school year. My life changed.

I don’t recall what I learned that year, but I still remember Ms. Drake. She was such a kind lady who wore a smile to class each day and carried a pleasant demeanor. In her class, I still had to be separated from the rest of the class for a short period of time, but this time it didn’t bother me. Ms. Drake never offered the class any candy toys, or any other tangible rewards; she gave us consideration and respect and made us feel a part of her whole class. From that point on, I wanted to give to others what Ms. Drake gave to me…an opportunity to learn and be a part of the whole group.

Things were rough for me the next school year. I was placed in general educational classes and pulled out for resource for one period. I struggled with reading as quick and efficient as my peers, and failed social studies and science. Although I didn’t pass all of my subject areas, I was promoted to the next grade.

Things began to look up for me. In seventh and eighth grade, I was finally placed in all general education class and no longer had to go to any resource or pullout classes. After completing eighth grade, I was promoted to ninth grade and took all college prep classes and maintained a GPA of 3.2 or higher through my senior year.

Many events had taken place in my life by the end of my senior year. At the age of 18, I had a two year old baby girl, had lost my college scholarship, and possessed feelings of hopelessness. I often asked myself, “How can I go to college now?” No one in my family had ever attended college and I had no means to pay for it. Knowing I was responsible for taking care of a child, I had to find employment. Two months after graduating from Hope High School, I interviewed and was hired at a poultry plant; I worked there for two years.

I don’t have time to tell my whole story, but in August 1995 I was blessed to enroll and attend Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, AR. During my first few years of college, I studied to become a secondary education teacher. I truly wish I could say I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, but that is not my story. After earning a “D” in Calculus, I went to my advisor and professor and dropped the course. My advisor also informed me I would have to retake the class or change my major. So, I made the decision to change my major. I finished the last two years of college while getting married and having my second child. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration in December 1999.

I worked in the business field for over 4 years, but my heart would not allow me to be satisfied with this career choice. In the spring of 2005, I quit my job and enrolled into the teacher alternative program offered at Texas A & M University-Texarkana. I did all the course work, passed all my tests, submitted applications with nearly all of the school districts in the Texarkana. I interviewed with some of the school districts, but no one seemed interested in hiring me as a classroom teacher. In my frustration I met with a district human resource staff who advised me to accept a job as a substitute teacher. This was a bit of a letdown, but I finally humbled myself and took a job as a substitute teacher.

In May 2006, I received a call from the assistant principal at CK Bender Elementary. She offered me a job as a classroom teacher. I was so excited! Teresa Robinson was finally going to be a classroom teacher.

Eleven years later, I still think about my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Drake. She gave me a chance and now I strive each and every week to teach, love and give hope to all of my students, especially those who struggle in school.

Submitted by: Elizabeth Jorgensen

Nancy Jorgensen is directing and playing the piano. For 40 short minutes, each student is part of a team. They are all active members and they are all required to give full participation. Each student knows they must perform well because their test is not a multiple-choice or essay test. Their test is a choir concert. At this concert, 800 faces or more will be on them. The audience expects perfection—it’s something they know they will receive.

Motivation and passion are two things this lady encapsulates. She uses a Kleenex to emulate a penalty flag in her all-boys choir. She assigns three boys the role of referee and at each infraction (a lack of acting, poor diction, etc.), the referees are instructed to throw the Kleenex penalty flag. The referees are holding their classmates accountable; their classmates are working hard not to penalize the team. The next day, Nancy repeats the rehearsal. And this time it’s the all-girls class and instead of a penalty flag, she starts out asking the girls about their weekends. And then, another downbeat is given…

Nancy is a published author. Just last year, she had an article published on her successful single-sex classes. Before this article, she published two books: Things They Never Taught You in Choral Methods and From the Trenches: Real Insights from Real Choral Educators. Both of these books have sold thousands of copies and share the successes of her choir department. Nancy’s books are used across the nation in teacher education programs. Additionally, Nancy has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She has written these articles about being a high school choir teacher: “Linebackers Hit Low Notes As Well as QBs”; “Energetic Boys as Punch to Teacher’s Morning”; “Graduating to email, J-Crew Band, and Broadway Lives at Arrowhead.”

Nancy was also published in the Music Educators Journal. This professional article was titled “Successful Single Sex Offerings in the Choral Department.”

Nancy has worked at Arrowhead for over thirty years, putting in countless hours, staying well into the night, working annually on thousands of concerts. She is the highest exemplar of a dedicated, passionate and accomplished teacher.

Nancy’s production of “Cats” was recognized as the BEST HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL IN THE NATION by USA Today. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article reporting on the success, “Arrowhead has somehow created an environment where singing is seen as cool — football players make up a substantial number of the 450 students who take choir classes each day. All of that contributes to an environment where the secondary roles in an Arrowhead production are good enough to be the leading singers and actors in any other high school musical. The class is as much about training and leadership as it is about performance.”

The community knows about the greatness of the Arrowhead Union choir department; this shows in packed houses, where people stand in line an hour before, just to get a front-row seat. While community members stand in line, waiting for their prized seat, they are entertained with a visual exhibit. The display case in the foyer changes with the seasons. During the holiday months, there are candles, children’s books and holly. Before the musical, there are professional headshots and posters. Stars hang from the ceiling, a banner is overhead. The decorations are one small thing Nancy does to welcome the community into Arrowhead Union High School and warmly invite people to stay awhile and enjoy the music.

I am lucky enough to teach at the same place as my mom, Nancy Jorgensen. When I am here late at school, grading papers or mentor students, I’ll often stop down in the choir room to visit. There is always an abundance of food, laughs and music. Often times, there is a student on the piano in the hallway; another is playing Beethoven in the choir room. Another student is helping hang a new poster. In every aspect of her career, my mom has motivated and inspired students to continue to perfect their craft and help out their teammates. She has also inspired me to be a better English teacher—and person. Thank you, Mom!

Submitted by: Shonda Buchanan

The first time I entered my freshman Shakespearean class at Loyola Marymount University, it wasn’t quite with a groan, but neither was I filled with excitement. As an English major, I loved modern poetry, Octavia Butler and magic realism. When the teacher entered the class, she greeted us politely, but there was a kind of wild glee in her eyes. “Good morning, class, I’m Dr. Barbara Rico.” Because I’m a writer, I want to add something to her greeting, such as, “you have no idea what you’re going to experience in my class, do you?” Because we didn’t. Dr. Rico wrote furiously on the board the entire semester, had us reading from texts and memorizing the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, and I was never once bored. You could tell she loved not only her work, but the world that she wove around us, and that she most dearly loved sharing her passion.

She made the work and the Elizabethan era come alive and while all these comedies, tragedies, blazons and anti-blazons were swirling around my little head, I fell in love with the language, the time period and with Dr. Rico’s style of teaching. She poured it all into the classroom and made us feel as our classroom was watching everything from the front row. Watching her made me believe I could one day teach, even though I was never expected to go to college, even though I was a single-mother at the time and sometimes had to bring my one-year old child to class in a car seat. Dr. Rico never once blinked at my circumstances. Throughout my matriculation, I took every Rico class because I knew not only would I be entertained, but I would LEARN and retain the knowledge I studied in her class: the knowledge would become my own.

One day at the beginning of my senior year, Dr. Rico gave me an application to a Ph.D. program at Stanford University. “I think you have what it takes to get into this program,” she said. Even though, I was not lucky enough to be chosen for this program, her belief in me is what I remember from this moment in my life. That feeling propelled me through my Master’s degree and my MFA in Creative Writing. I truly believe if I would not have met Dr. Rico, and saw her as a model for my life, and felt her genuine concern for my future, I would not be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English at Hampton University today, where I’ve been since 2004. Thank you Dr. Rico, and to all those other college professors out there who change the trajectory of young lives, making us believe in ourselves and our ability to one day be at the front of a classroom, wild-eyed and filled with possibilities.

Submitted by: Adam DeSimone

Becoming an educator isn’t the easiest path to set ourselves on. Our vocation doesn’t command the respect that other professions receive, and we all know what the pay is like. But we also know how powerful and important our jobs are, and we know how our work impacts the lives of our pupils. Despite the assessments we engineer it’s hard to tell if we actually get through to anyone, and even if we do we don’t always get to enjoy the benefits of our work. For my junior year creative writing teacher this was especially true, and it probably took much longer than could be reasonably expected to tell if his lesson landed.

I gave Mr. Talon no shortage of reasons to loath my presence in his class. I was brash and arrogant, and even though senior year was well into the future I already had the swagger of someone far more accomplished. I wasn’t the class clown who derailed lessons, but once I made up my mind on an issue there was no force on Earth that could get me to change my mind. I was confident, probably a little too confident, and challenged any issue I took exception to.

Still, Mr. Talon’s quirky behavior and raw intellect meant I couldn’t help but respect the guy, and I’d occasionally keep my mouth shut to listen to what he had to say. One day though, during a particularly heated discussion, Mr. Talon quickly shut down the conversation. I don’t know if he thought he lost control of the class or not, but he told us to clear our desks and take out a sheet of paper. He must have been sitting on this assignment for a while given how quickly he changed gears, but he got to work writing instructions on the board. There was no way for me to know this at the time, but this assignment changed my life and brought me into teaching.

The instruction told us to write a letter to ourselves that we would want to receive in 10 years. That was it. No rubric or lesson objectives, just the simple prompt and a due date. I don’t know why, but my imagination ran away with this assignment and I took it extremely seriously. After writing a few drafts, I turned in my work at the end of the week and never thought about the assignment again. After all, we didn’t have to provide Mr. Talon with an envelope or a stamp so there was no reason to think that the assignment was anything other than something to keep us occupied for a while.

Ten years later, my parents got a letter in the post addressed to me. My mail would occasionally route to their house, so when my folks asked me to come get it nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When I got home I wasn’t sure what I was holding, but as I opened it up I noticed the handwriting inside looked suspiciously like my own. Then, like a bolt of lightning, everything came back to me.

I don’t ordinarily describe myself as precocious, but for this particular exercise I did show a bit of prescience. Among other things, I told my future self that if I wasn’t happy with my life I should figure out what went wrong and make a plan to fix it. As it turned out, I was generally pretty miserable at the time. Even though I was employed as an analyst, I hated my career and every day at work seemed worse than the last.

I read my letter a few times and started to process what I wrote. The next night, I went to my night school class after I got out of work. I was halfway through an MBA program, but everything there suddenly felt two-dimensional and stale. For whatever reason, everything clicked in the middle of class and I knew I would not be finishing my MBA. During the bus ride home, I looked for education programs that I could enroll in, and when I got home I started to write essays for admissions.

Later that week, I wrote to Mr. Talon to let him know how grateful I was that he sent the letter. We swapped a few notes and agreed to get a coffee sometime in the yet to be determined future. A few months later, I logged into my social media account to see what was new and I noticed my old high school clique posting comments on an obituary. Paul, a creative writing teacher in his early 50s, suddenly died of a heart attack.

…I wish we had that coffee… I’d like to pick his mind and see why he decided to do this activity, and find out if we learned what he wanted us to. I can’t imagine his goal was for me to become a teacher, but his lesson speaks volumes of the hard to quantify value that good teachers bring to our lives.

I like to end my academic years conducting an exercise similar to Paul’s. The only real difference is that I add a note into my student’s envelope explaining that this letter is my way of honoring Paul’s memory, and that it was his work that inspired me to become a teacher.

In 2025 I will mail my first batch of letters. Even though I will physically send the envelopes it is Paul’s spirit that guides my actions. One wonders then, not only of the impact of a good teacher, but also how many more lives Paul will continue to touch. For a man who was taken from us too soon, I hope he rests well.

Submitted by: Marian Fattore

As a senior in high school in an honors English class, I met my mentor, Miss Marie Capalbo. I always liked English, but Miss Capalbo was the educator that confirmed what I already knew—that I wanted to become an English teacher.

We read many literary classics that senior year, but the one that truly touched my heart was, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. Miss Capalbo absolutely made that novel come alive! Her dramatic voice, her clear explanations of the subtleties of the verse, the way she encouraged discussion, and most importantly, the way she related the story of Dr. Manette, Lucy Manette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton was totally unforgettable. Her passion for English was evident day-in and day-out. She was a professional in the true sense of the word. She was a master of all things English and I wanted to be just like her!

I have taught “A Tale of Two Cities” many times and it is because of my mentor, Miss Capalbo, that my enthusiasm for the classic Dickens tale shines through year after year. Miss Capalbo left an indelible mark on me and her influence is evident in my teaching after all these years. She was an unforgettable educator and she is the reason why I am an English teacher.

Submitted by: Melissa Wayner

The not one, but two teachers that inspired me to become an educator are now at Selser Elementary School. These teachers that both inspired me to be an educator are Mrs. Lemieux and Mrs. Tougas. They were my teachers at Duggan Middle School in Springfield from 1996-1999. During that time I developed a good teacher-student relationship with the two ladies. They helped me not only academically, but also in my life journey as well. Mrs. L was my math and science teacher in the sixth grade. Mrs. Tougas was my social studies and English teacher. I can’t express how big they have impacted my life. I am still in contact with them today as I type this story.

The passion that these two women have to see students succeed is amazing. I remember when I first had to take the MCAS practice test in the eighth grade before heading off to high school. Mrs. L had given me a little brown bunny for a good luck charm on a key chain. She said, “This is for you to have good luck.” I ended up not doing well on them, but the point there was, if you try hard enough you will succeed.

Mrs. T was very passionate about English class for sure. She was enthusiastic and energetic at what she was teaching. She loved helping her students every day, and she still does to this day – teaching even though she previously retired, came back because she loves helping children learn. Mrs. L has since then become a principal a few years back and continues to put the students’ best interest at heart.

These two lovely ladies have been with me since the sixth grade and I wouldn’t change it for the world. They both have helped me through many rough patches in my journey through high school, into college, and even further than that, my wedding and children of my own now as an adult. They have always been positive role models in my life.

These two teachers are people too and they care about you just as you were their own. They have been through many journeys in my life and I am very grateful to have them in my life. I hope that another student has been just as inspired as I have by these two wonderful, most patient and caring teachers as Mrs. Lemieux and Mrs. Tougas are. Their school is most deserving for the money to help with school supplies, etc. Thank you Mrs. Lemieux and Mrs. Tougas for all your hard work and dedication for all of these years!

Submitted by: Heidi Hansen

While I have always loved school, it did not come easy to me. It seemed as though some of my peers had the natural ability in which they did not have to study and managed to get straight A’s. This was not the case for me. I have vivid memories, in Language Arts especially, of falling behind and feeling as though I couldn’t keep up with my peers. It was in fourth grade, when we were expected to read Harry Potter, that I felt completely incompetent. Along with my nonexistent interest in this series, I remember feeling as though I was reading each page several times and still not retaining what I had read. My teachers at the time were unsupportive and (what seems to me) had just passed me along.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school in which a teacher realized I needed additional support and really made an effort to help me in my education. The feeling was incredible and still brings tears to my eyes this day. Knowing that my potential was worth her time was everything to me. While I now teach in an inclusive preschool classroom, a greatly different setting than a high school language arts classroom, she is what I inspire to be. The support that a student hasn’t yet had and desperately needs. While my three- and four-year-old students have not yet had years in the public schools, they have had experiences at home. Some children come into my classroom at the beginning of the year already doubting themselves and working under their full potential in fear of failure. I want to be the teacher in this child’s life that shows them how truly incredible they are and that they can succeed. I want to be my own version of Mrs. Giguere.

Submitted by: George Halley

The teacher that inspired me was my High School band teacher. I grew up in Limon Colorado, a very small town on the Eastern Plains. The school was a K-12 one story building.

When I joined the band program in the 6th grade, the teachers were very inconsistent – five different teachers in 4 years. The fifth and final of those teachers was Mr. Greg Scherrer, who is still there over 10 years later. The band program was running out of money, and there was talk of ending it entirely until Mr. Scherrer, a Reverend at a local church, volunteered his time the first year to teach the band. He got his degree in Music Education from the University of Northern Colorado before becoming a Reverend.

Mr. Scherrer showed not only his students, but also the community of Limon the importance of a great band program. Under his leadership, the band has been awarded first place in several large and small ensemble events. Limon is also now represented by a few students most years at the All State band competition. He took a dying program and nourished it with love, hard work and passion that rubbed off on his students. Many of which have chosen a career path in music education.

His generosity inspired me to follow in his footsteps and get my degree from U.N.C. Greeley. I always put education before money, and the chance to inspire my students above hours in a day. I am now an Orff Specialized teacher in the Jeffco School District in Colorado. I inspire my students and encourage them to be creative in the music room.

Because of Mr. Scherrer’s dedication to keeping music alive in the school, I was able to find my passion and, through that, my future wife (we met in the marching band in college). I owe my passion and career as an elementary music teacher to Mr. Scherrer, and his passion to put learning and inspiration above a pay check.

Submitted by: Alison O’Donnell

All students seem to have a subject they gravitate toward. Some are science-brained, others are lovers of numbers. I have always been a fan of the written word. Blessed with many great English teachers along the way, my student career was enriched by these instructors in ways I had never imagined until I sat to write about it here.

Tasked with choosing which teacher was most instrumental in me wanting to teach, I whole-heartedly think of Mrs. Ruth Siperstein, affectionately known as Sip. Teachers today seem to want to be friends with students, and aren’t much older than the students they teach sometimes, but Sip was different. Older and wiser, Sip commanded our senior classroom with her brilliant smile and old-school principles. She possessed a way with teens that never necessitated anger. She never raised her voice, and was prepared each day with a lesson that didn’t send us snoozing. I would watch her work the room with her enthusiasm for Shakespeare, Thoreau—all the greats. She kept us fully engaged, making Macbeth come to life in a way no other instructor could. At the time, my goals were still unknown, but I always thought if I were ever a teacher, I’d want to be like her.

Sip and I stayed in touch, and she attended my wedding a few years later. Life got busy after that, but we always made it a point to have lunch together at least once per year. She would gently listen to my hopes and dreams, her contagious smile ever brilliant. Occasionally, she would ask me if I’d ever considered being a teacher. It was my goal back in kindergarten, but I was too adventurous, I’d told Sip, for a desk job.

After finishing my Liberal Arts degree, it was time to choose a major and I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Knowing my love of English was prevalent, I opted to complete a BA in Mass Communications. This would afford me the ability to be a photojournalist for a local newspaper, or work in any other news media field. I went on to become an editor for a scuba magazine, and climbed the ladder within the Postal Service as a writer/editor for their Corporate Relations. When I became pregnant, it was decided for me that I couldn’t be a professional woman working long hours and be a good mom as well. This is when I decided teaching would be a good way to make time for my child and still utilize my English skills. I demoted back to letter carrier while earning my teaching certification at night. It was difficult, but I would draw inspiration from Sip every time I felt overwhelmed.

It’s been 33 years since I graduated high school, and I’m proud to say Sip and I still continue our annual luncheon tradition. She’s walking a little slower these days, but still has many great insights into Education and what it means to be a great teacher. I still aspire to be like her– and really need to tell her as much!