The Free Spirits Reflect on Their Favorite Teachers

Teacher Appreciation week courtesy PTAThis year, to mark Teacher Appreciation Week, which will be celebrated in schools across the country May 4–8, 2015, we at Free Spirit wanted to pay tribute to some of the educators who made big impacts in our lives. We may no longer be students, but we’ll always be grateful for the educators who stuck up for us, introduced us to wild new ideas, encouraged us to pursue our passions, developed our strengths, and helped us work through challenges. Thank you for inspiring our work and for making it possible!

“A standout teacher in my life was my high school Shakespeare teacher, Mrs. Hutchinson. When I entered her class I hadn’t yet read a single work by Shakespeare. I foolishly assumed I wouldn’t like his works, but she proved me wrong. I recall Mrs. Hutchinson starting most classes (maybe every class) by saying, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’ Then, she’d proceed to prove that premise by comparing current day events with passages from Shakespeare. It was amazing. Mrs. Hutchinson had high expectations of everyone in her class, and you didn’t dare come to class unprepared. I recall having to memorize long passages from Shakespeare’s works and thinking that I’d never remember all that! Mrs. Hutchinson had a way of suggesting that of course you can do it. As Shakespeare said, ‘It’s Greek to me.’ But it wasn’t after being in her class.”
Judy Galbraith, president & founder

“I tried to choose just one teacher, but realized I had to give credit to an entire quartet of amazing teachers I had in grade school. As a second grader, I was a long way from home. My family had moved from Minnesota to Italy, and I was shy, homesick, and culture shocked. Fortunately, my teacher that year was Mrs. Opal. Cheerful and nurturing, she gave comfort and encouragement in abundance. The following year, Mrs. Prideaux provided a calm and supportive third-grade classroom. She also advocated for her students, seeing their strengths and needs. (In my case, she saw I loved to write and placed me in a gifted class in which I wrote a surely award-worthy story about a skiing squirrel.) respectThen, in fourth grade, I had one of my all-time favorite teachers, Ms. Russo. She was tough, funny, and fair. Most important, she treated her students with the same respect she would a peer. In turn, we strove to be worthy of that respect. I worked hard, and toughened up a bit. And through all three of these years, my history teacher was Mrs. Fabris, a vibrant force who taught for 40 years and was a legend at the school. With vast knowledge, boundless enthusiasm, and high expectations, she made ancient history come alive—no small feat when teaching The Iliad to nine-year-olds! Together, these four very different teachers gave me some of my most memorable and rewarding school years. I didn’t always appreciate their unique gifts at the time. Looking back, I wish I could thank them all in person.”
Alison Behnke, editor

“I benefited from many amazing teachers, but two standouts were my high school English instructors, Mr. Lundquist and Mrs. Schlicht. I attended a very small school in northern Minnesota, but their recommended reading—in and out of the classroom—showed me worlds unknown! Whether we were discussing racism in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, or feminism in Victorian England, our talks on the foreign and familiar in literature bolstered my love of books and helped lead me to a career in publishing. Of course, I should probably also give a nod to my mom (a school speech pathologist) and dad (a sixth-grade science teacher)—they had a pretty big impact on how I turned out, too.”
Anastasia Scott, publicist

“I have so much appreciation for my 11th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Olson. On our school trip to the UK, she brought Shakespeare and The Canterbury Tales to life with her passion. She made us understand that literature is ‘alive’ and encouraged us to seek it out every day.”
Lindsey LaBore, sales & marketing specialist

“I’ve been so fortunate to have many amazing teachers throughout my life. My parents, both educators by profession, were of course my first and best teachers. critical eyeIn the school setting, one of my most memorable teachers was Mr. Eicher, who taught high school social studies. His 10th-grade history class was one of the first courses in which we were taught to question everything that we’d learned before, debate each other in addition to the instructor, and really think for ourselves. I sought out his class for 11th-grade history as well, and that course was equally transformative. He’s one of the main reasons I pursued history in college, and he taught me to approach the subject—and the world—with a critical eye.”
Michelle Lee Lagerroos, designer

“My high school friends used to tell me that I would grow up to be just like Madame Plante. The similarities between my 10th-grade self and our French teacher were already beginning to show: tall, interested in the piano, fond of vintage Antartex coats. My friends intended it as a joke, but I always secretly hoped they would be right. Ann Marie Plante, cosmopolitan polyglot, doctorate-holding pianist, and community volunteer, was the kind of teacher and role model every student hopes to have. In her classroom, students learned more than just French vocabulary and grammar. Thanks to her high expectations and personal example, she taught us all how to strive for excellence for the sake of learning (instead of for a perfect GPA) and how to conduct our lives—academic, professional, and personal—with curiosity, courtesy, and integrity.”
Lauren Ernt, publishing administrative associate

“My high school English teacher, Mr. Dougherty, has long stayed in my mind. He was quite a bit older and slower moving than the other teachers, but he had them all beat when it came to passion and character. I’ll never forget walking into class one morning and the room was pitch black with what sounded like a haunted house record playing in the background. When we were all seated and giggling, Mr. Dougherty walked up the center aisle enacting the three apparitions scene from Macbeth. He even wore a black cloak and cackled! It thrilled me to see a teacher be so bold and unafraid of what his students thought of him. Some probably thought he was a silly/crazy/boring old man, but I adored him for being anything but.”
Meg Bratsch, acquisitions manager

“My favorite teacher was actually my grade school principal, Mrs. Flack. It was the mid 1960s and she understood that all kids didn’t learn the same. She was way ahead of her time.

“As a young student, I was bored in class and would simply get up and go do something else. Even as early as kindergarten, I had difficulty in class. I once told my kindergarten teacher that I didn’t come to school to sing her silly songs and play her silly games, I came to learn to read and write. Mrs. Kidd, if you’re out there, you probably remember me! Obviously, this didn’t go over very well with my teachers as it interrupted the classroom. Therefore, teachers would just put me and my desk out in the hallway for a period of time—even a couple of hours. It wasn’t helpful to me but probably worked well for them. There were a few of us out there in that hallway from time to time, and not surprisingly, we were mostly the same kids.

“When Mrs. Flack came to William Penn Elementary, I was in second grade. She requested that teachers send kids to her office rather than to the hallway. I know that sounds like trouble—being sent to the principal’s office—but it wasn’t. It was positive, and it made a difference. She spent time getting to know me and the other students who were considered behavior issues. She would put me to work in her office for an hour or so making copies on the mimeograph machine (the precursor to the copy machine, and possibly the beginning of my printing career), running papers to teachers, and other tasks or errands. but it workedWhen I returned to my classroom, I was able to do better. I don’t know what she knew, but it worked. The following year, she instituted a ‘split class,’ which was a classroom where she put a few third graders, in a fourth-grade classroom. I was one of those students, and it made all the difference in my interest level and my success in school. I believe that she changed my life by recognizing I needed more challenge.

“There were other students with other problems. Some had learning issues or problems at home, or, like me, were just bored in class. This was a time before the mainstream recognized ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning or behavior issues, but I think Mrs. Flack did. She took the time to get to know these kids and really find out what worked for them, and, depending on the student and the issue, she would find a way to help them succeed. She really cared about every student.

“She made a huge difference in my life, and I am sure in many other lives in her long career. We stayed close, and she was at my high school graduation.”
Kim Hurley, production manager

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

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