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Great Teachers: We Had Our Say, Now It's Your Turn

Last week we told the stories of our favorite teachers. We hoped that would inspire you, and we weren't disappointed.

We've heard from hundreds of people — on social media, in comments on the blog and via email. Here are a few of our favorites:

Lets start with Facebook. Here's Felix Flauta Jr. in a comment on the NPR page:

/ facebook.com

On Twitter, Mary Banks painted her great teacher in a few quick brush strokes:

And among the hundreds of Instagram comments, here's another poetic one — from Tmags13_nyc: "Mr. Brian O'Neill taught us math and reading but also about opera, impressionist painting, and how to read the NYT financial section — in seventh grade!"

Our inbox filled up, too, with heartwarming stories ranging from kindergarten "helpers" all the way up to college professors.

Here's one from Dot Dannenberg:

"To my senior literature class, Christa Houser wasn't so much a teacher as she was a goddes — one who had deigned to spend her day among us greasy, pimply, mortals.

"She was barely thirty and super-charged with energy. We were cult-ish and obsessive about the books she taught us. Heart of Darkness and As I Lay Dying became our holy texts of truth and mystery.

"Underclassmen would say, 'What's the big deal with Joseph Conrad?'

" 'You'll find out when you're ready,' we'd say.

"We'd pass notes in the hallway, elaborate doodles of literary quotes: 'My mother is a fish,' 'You do not do, you do not do / anymore, black shoe.'

"Houser gave us the gift of honesty when other adults kept us at a distance. She didn't sugar-coat. She'd drop an effective four-letter word from time to time. She'd come into class stressed from sleepless nights with a toddler ... and then give a brilliant lecture on Alice Walker or existentialism.

"She gave up her break, her planning periods, and her time before and after school to listen to me read pages of horrible, original poetry. She told me I could be a writer. She told me I was worth it. She told me to get my head out of my ass dreaming of a New York experience I couldn't afford and apply to the liberal arts college nearby, where she'd attended.

" 'How will I know if that's where I belong?' I asked her.

" 'You'll feel it in the air,' she said. And I did."

The Value Of Time

For quite a few of you, your great teacher wasn't your favorite back in school. It's only in hindsight that you've come to appreciate them. Here's an email from Claire Solomon:

"I have never been particularly in shape, but I have recently discovered an affinity for running on the treadmill early in the morning. The gym is quiet, and I pick the machine next to the window so that I can watch the sun make its way across the sky. I was on the treadmill thinking about great teachers when my mind drifted to my middle school gym teacher Dr. George Smith. Smith was not particularly warm or particularly nice. He was one of those teachers whose age was perplexing — was he 40? 63? it was hard to tell. Several years ago I heard that he passed away, but I can't seem to find anything about his life on the internet. He was and will always be a mystery to me.

"There is one thing for which I will always credit Smith: the importance of running that 12 minute-or-under mile. He spoke passionately about the importance of our health, about how when we grew older it would be harder and harder to get our bodies in shape. We ran around the track for what seemed like hours, and he always frowned alarmingly at the last few people to cross the finish line. It was completely embarrassing, especially for middle schoolers. But as I ran on the treadmill last week I couldn't help but silently thank Smith for his candor and for the lessons he was trying to impose on a group of 11 and 12-year-olds.

"Dr. Smith was by no means my most favorite teacher, but his lessons have had an impact on me long after I left that middle school gym. Wherever Dr. George Smith may be now, I want to thank him for getting me in shape."

Keep sending us the stories about your great teachers. We'll read them and pull some out to share.

Drop some thoughts in the comments below, find us on on Facebook or Twitter, use #50GreatTeachers on Twitter or send an email to npred@npr.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.