The 12 Greatest Lessons Our Teachers Have Ever Taught UsLisa Quinones-Fontanez
October 5th is World Teacher’s Day. Being the parent of a special needs kid, I understand the value of a good teacher. I know the difference a teacher can make. And as a working mom in and out of college for the last 20 years, I realize the impact teachers have made in my life — personally and academically. When I think about the teachers that have made a significant difference in my life, I realize their lessons have shaped the person I’ve become.
I grew up in a home filled with books. We weren’t rich and my parents weren’t big on reading; my father just happened to work in a book factory and he brought them home. Books were something I took for granted until my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Aldorisio, made us read James and The Giant Peach. She was the first teacher to feed my passion for reading. In tenth grade, Ms. Schwartz assigned the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that made me want to write. And it was my college professor — whose name I can’t remember — who introduced me to Junot Diaz’s The Son, the Moon and the Stars — one of the first stories I read by a Latino author.
But it was my creative writing professor, Terrence Cheng, who taught me the greatest lesson. On the first day of class, Cheng announced to a room full of eager writers, “If you want someone to tell you that you’re amazing, show your work to your mother.” His words were harsh but I appreciated his honesty. I didn’t want a professor to tell me that everything I wrote was great; I wanted a professor who could help me get better. He helped me learn to understand and accept constructive criticism. Instead of feeling insulted by a critique, I learned to really listen and apply it to my writing. It’s been more than ten years since I first stepped into Cheng’s creative writing class, but I still hear his voice when I write.
I asked 11 other bloggers to share the greatest lesson they ever learned from a teacher…
In Honor of World Teacher’s Day 1 of 12
I asked 11 bloggers to share the greatest lesson a teacher has ever taught them. Click through to see the valuable lessons they learned — and don't be surprised if you learn something, too!
Believe in yourself 2 of 12
"The biggest lesson my 5th grade teacher taught me was to believe in myself. I had always loved writing, and I would even create small little booklets of my musings with folded white paper, staples, a pen and my imagination. But I never believed I could write for a living. My parents were first-generation immigrants, and they worked in hard labor and so for me the thought of specializing in writing as a career seemed like shooting for the stars. There weren't any others out there who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds as me that I could look to for inspiration. Those who were already out there in the field living their dreams didn't exist in my sphere. Mrs. Spears was the first person to take an interest in my writing, to compliment me about it, and to encourage me to pursue it as something more than just a hobby. She planted a seed that maybe otherwise wouldn't have been there. I've always been grateful to her and other great educators for that. I guess the biggest lesson she taught me that year was to believe in myself and to not be afraid to follow my dreams, no matter how far-fetched they might have seemed to me."
— Juan, Juan of Words
Don’t underestimate the power of a good book 3 of 12
"In 8th grade, Ms. Massarella taught me that literature could show me the world. In high school, Ms. Cosimano insisted that I go and see the world for myself. Just don't forget to take a novel along."
— Betty, MyFriendBettySays
The importance of formulating your own opinions 4 of 12
"When I was a senior in high school, my AP history teacher taught me that it was really important to 'think critically.' I didn't really know what that meant at the time; nobody had ever said that to me before. He pushed me to keep questioning and always asked me what I thought in class. As a first-generation American, I always felt I had to believe everything I was taught and not contradict as that might be perceived as disrespectful. Mr. Henry taught me that the real learning happened when I was able to use my own analysis and judgment to formulate my opinions. It's a lesson I took to heart and shaped how I viewed the world, and in many ways, lead me to where I am today."
— Caroline, CauseSmart
Everyone deserves to be heard 5 of 12
"My teachers taught me that people will always have varying opinions about what is possible or probable, but they'll never guarantee what the final outcome will be. Opinions are only valuable when they result in the realization of creative and diligent endeavors. Not all viewpoints are valuable, but everyone deserves to be heard."
— Charlie Capen, Night of the Living Dads
Don’t be afraid to question what you assume to be a given 6 of 12
"So many teachers taught me lessons I have never forgotten. A teacher can truly make a difference in the life of a child and teen. My fifth grade teacher, Miriam Werth, helped me when I was being bullied in school. My high school philosophy teacher Elizabeth Saba taught me to question what I had assumed to be a given. However, I have a very special spot in my heart for my Journalism school professors Hugo Miller and Soledad Puente. They believed in me when I didn't and basically taught me all I needed to know to be in front of a camera and how to speak in a neutral manner so I could have an international career. To this day I am sad he wasn't able to see everything I achieved because he passed away a few weeks after I moved to Miami."
— Jeannette Kaplun, Mamifesto
Take the time to do it right the first time 7 of 12
"There was a sign in my third-grade classroom that read, 'If you don't think you have enough time to do it right, think about how much time it'll take to do it over.' That's stayed with me ever since. And, you know, made me a bit more careful. Hopefully."
— Meredith Carroll, Babble blogger
It’s possible to speak your mind without losing your temper 8 of 12
"My high school English teacher, Mrs. Giles, was young and real and empowering. She supported my independent streak — to not be a brainless bubble floating through high school trying to fit in with any particular crowd —and taught me that I can speak my mind and fight for social good without losing my temper. 'It's all about self-control,' she said to me. 'You can accomplish more by staying true to yourself and not getting carried away with emotion.' She was so special to me, and I love her still today even though I haven't seen her in over 20 years!"
— Monica, Mommy Meastra
Embrace your quirks 9 of 12
"I was fortunate enough to have a lot of great teachers, but SeÃ±ora Badreddine comes to mind. On the first day of Spanish class, she had us choose our Spanish names from a chart to be used in class. Somehow I ended up looking at the French class's chart and chose the name RenÃ©e. She pointed out my mistake and said that RenÃ© is a boy name in Spanish. I had my heart set on that name and she let me keep it — she even indulged my insistence on spelling it with a capital 'n' (ReNÃ©e.) The lesson I took away from that experience was that it's okay to be different and I so appreciated her for embracing my quirks rather than forcing me to conform."
— Tracy, Latinaish
Don’t miss the chance to show your true potential 10 of 12
"The moment my English teacher told me not to do work because she didn't think I was capable. Not because she didn't think I was smart enough, I was just too lazy to grab the opportunity to show my true potential. She was the queen of reverse psychology ... and it worked on me! Her name was Mrs. Wright. Now I hold her last name, too."
— Ruby Wright, Babble blogger
How to turn despair into beauty 11 of 12
"I'll never forget my English teacher in college. She knew I was going through a really rough time in my life and gave me the opportunity to use that experience as a form of art and expression. I wrote a book of 10 poems that semester, got an A, the honors roll project award, and the chance to present my work to some amazing people. But what she doesn't know is that she taught me how to fight, how to turn despair into beauty, how to make the most out of life."
— Rachel, The Digital Latina
Actions speak louder than words 12 of 12
"My college journalism professor always used to tell us: 'Show me, don't tell me.' This can be applied to everything — not just writing."
— Miz Kp, Sailing Autistic Seas
From elementary teachers to college professors, teachers are the people in our lives who have the power to make a difference. And their lessons are truly never forgotten.
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.