Tribute to Teachers

Most of us can remember that elementary or high school teacher, Sunday School teacher, seminary teacher, college professor, or coach that made a profound difference in our lives or the lives of our children. Yet, despite their influence, many of them will probably never know how much they affected us. At LDS Living, we asked our readers to tell us about those teachers who touched their lives, and we hope you enjoy the responses. *My Son's Best Year* Ms. LeBlanc was my son's third grade teacher. She was and is a wonderful teacher. She is strict and doesn't hesitate to make any child miss recess if he or she hasn't turned in the homework assignment, finished class work, etc. She is also more than generous. Students are rewarded for everything. She has competitions on who reads the most, who is ahead in the times tables, etc. I think the most amazing thing about her is that this was the only year my son achieved straight A's. He was capable, and she would do whatever she could to get him to do so. We have since discovered he does have ADHD and it is difficult for him to do class work, but somehow Ms. LeBlanc made a difference with him. He earned his A's. She did not give them to him. I was just talking to another parent whose child had similar symptoms to my son, and told her about my son being so successful in this class. She said her child had the same kind of year with Ms. LeBlanc. She is one in a million. ~ Julia Hammon, Simi Valley, California *The Art of Teaching* I was in my late thirties when I returned to college. My art history professor's name is Gene Rister and he works at Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona. While at PVCC, I took all my humanities courses from Mr. Rister. I would even take classes I didn't need just so I could sit in another class of his. First of all, Mr. Rister is enormously passionate about what he does. He loves art and he loves the diverse cultures that created the art. His home is like a small museum of many of his favorite works. In addition to being passionate about the art, he is eager to not just inform, but to inspire his students to feel passionately about the art as well. He understands how the art played a role in the civilizations he teaches about and makes it very personal. His teaching style draws you into the culture and he encourages students to think about, discuss, and come to understand the beliefs and motivations of the artists. In addition to all of this, Mr. Rister makes an effort to get to know his students personally. I was in a student art show at the college one semester, and I sent him an invitation as did the other artists (we all had him for at least one class). Not only did he show up with his wife, but they purchased one of my paintings. I was impressed and honored that someone I admire saw so much value in my creation. He hangs it in his home with all of his other prized artifacts. My husband and I have come to love Gene Rister and his wife very much and are very happy to know them and consider them friends. ~ Colette Lunceford *Wake-up Call* My favorite teacher was Elden Jackman, my senior year seminary teacher. We woke up at 5:45 a.m. to go to the early morning class. In 1958, early spring, after three and three-fourths years of perfect attendance, my best friend and I decided to ditch seminary and go to the park and play tennis. We thought no one would know and we told no one except a couple of other friends. The next day at 3:45 a.m. someone was standing over my bed shaking me awake. It was my seminary teacher. "Let's go play tennis!" he said. At the same time, our Priest advisor, his friend, was at my best friend's house waking him up, too. We played doubles tennis, ate the chocolate milk and donuts they provided, and made it to our 6:30 a.m. seminary class. I didn't miss seminary again that last year. Not only was that seminary teacher able to keep our class interested and entertained, he helped us develop an interest in learning the gospel because we knew he really cared about each of us. ~ George Bingham, Olympia, Washington *Paper after Paper* Mr. Simpson didn't know what to expect from us, his new Advanced Placement (AP) English class, until we turned in our summer papers. The first two weeks of school we had assignments due over books we had been assigned to read through the summer. After Mr. Simpson read our papers he decided the whole class was brilliant. He was so excited about the ability level of our class, that he assigned paper after paper after paper. I had never had to write so much in my life! I felt excited by his enthusiasm and overwhelmed by the assignments. We weren't expected to write just one essay over a book we read, we were expected to write three to five. He gave us multiple essay questions to get us to analyze the book from different angles. It felt like an accelerated college course. You couldn't be in that classroom and not get excited about reading or writing. We didn't only learn about the books we read, we learned about the historical and social significance behind each work. Mr. Simpson cared enough to take the time to analyze strengths in everyone's writing. He was also honest with us about our weaknesses. We knew we were welcome to stay and talk with him after class about any ideas we had for our papers, or stick around to share our newly acquired understanding. He was always enthusiastic and supportive about our abilities and our ideas. The next year, Mr. Simpson decided to take on the feat of teaching us again as seniors. Unfortunately the class got senioritis toward the end of that second year, and we didn't work as hard as we should have. Mr. Simpson was disappointed in us, but he still loved us, and we loved him. When I began attending college, I came to realize how important all that intense essay writing was. Thanks to him, now I can turn a paper in with full confidence. I never thought I would say it when I was sixteen and seventeen years old, but, thank you, Mr. Simpson, for making us write multiple essays for every book we read, averaging sometimes five essays a week. ~ Jennifer Michaels Ball, Hamilton, Ohio *Lasting Impressions* It couldn't have been easy teaching sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in Sunday School every week, but Dr. Little, a Sacramento dentist, was always there, prepared and enthusiastic. Through his entire teaching one thing was very clear: He cared for us. He would write a quote that he thought might help us on the chalkboard before each lesson. I'm sure he wondered sometimes if we even remembered them. After graduating from high school, I was thrilled to land a high-paying summer job to help me save money for my mission. Unfortunately, the thrill wore off all too quickly. The job was at a pallet factory where they took raw lumber and cut it into sizes to make pallets and fruit and vegetable crates. My job was to walk to a pile of boards that had been cut seconds before, visually inspect and grade them, and then walk a few steps and stack them on the A, B, or C tables. Then I returned to the saw and did the same thing all over again--over and over and over, eight hours a day. The day just dragged. I soon found myself counting the minutes until I could take a break or, better yet, stop at the end of the day. I was miserable, but the pay was too great to even consider quitting. One night as I was praying for help in making it through the next day, one of Dr. Little's quotes sprang suddenly into my mind: "The only way to kill time is to work it to death." I wasn't sure at first how I would apply it, but I decided to put it to the test. The next day I went to work with a mission. I was going to kill time--by working it to death. What a difference! I found myself trotting back and forth between the tail-off saw and the grading tables. I would set goals like not letting more than three boards stack up before they were on their way to the grading tables. I would concentrate, really concentrate, on making the right decision on the grading--eyeing the cut boards waiting for me as soon as I dropped off the previous ones. And when the whistle announced a break, I was astonished at how quickly the previous couple of hours had gone by, and then the weeks, and soon the summer had flown by, all because of one quote from a wonderful teacher. There have been other occasions throughout my life when the wisdom and life of Dr. Little have inspired me. When I was called to teach teenagers in Sunday School after my mission, there wasn't a Sunday that I didn't think of Dr. Little and try to follow his great example as a teacher. And to this day, when I find myself killing time, I make sure I work it to death. ~ Par Rasmusson, Logandale, Nevada *Life Lessons from the Ice* As a twelve-year-old, I played for the Jets under Coach Legault. I should mention that this was house-league hockey and not rep or travel level. Only at the rep level would teams play in tournaments in surrounding cities and towns. That is, unless your coach was Brian Legault. Coach Legault entered our team in several tournaments, which he coordinated and organized on his own, to provide us with these opportunities and memories. We had a great team and we made it to the championship game against the Kings on Minor Hockey Day. It was an exciting and evenly matched game and mid-way through the second period the score was tied at one goal each. This is when the coach of the Kings made the decision to sit-out his weaker players and double-shift his top lines. "Come on coach," I kept thinking, "let's double-shift our best players as well and win this game." Of course my focus was on winning and holding the cup. My focus was on me. But Coach Legault was a true example and he believed that there were things in life that were much more important than winning. He continued to rotate fairly all the players on our team much to my dismay. We would win as a team and we would lose as a team. We lost the championship game to the Kings 3-2. There would be no raising of the cup and skating around the rink to the cheering of the crowd. But there was a raising of standards and values that were courageously and admirably taught to an impressionable twelve-year-old. Our season officially concluded with an awards banquet organized by Coach Legault for the players and their parents. A binder was presented to each player with team and personal stats, the completed written test, and a personal letter from our exemplary coach. Following is one of the closing paragraphs from this letter that truly reflects the character of Coach Legault as an inspirational teacher. "One final and key point that I wish to express is that your immediate goals are easier to achieve by hard work. Don't be lackadaisical with your schoolwork, but rather be eager to broaden your scope of knowledge. Always remember that this world does not owe you a living but that you owe the world something. Your contribution in later years will aid mankind to try to obtain a peaceful world; a world of friendship and understanding, and this, my dear friends, requires your individual efforts combined together to formulate--TEAMWORK." I have now been coaching my sons' sports teams for the past fifteen years and the lessons that I learned from Coach Legault still have the greatest impact on the type of coach that I have tried my best to be. He knew the true meaning of being a winner and it had nothing to do with the score of the game. Thanks, Coach Legault. ~ Paul Cantlon, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada *Uncompromising Standards* I was in high school in the '70s. I was raised in a good Catholic family and was sent to Catholic schools. It was a time that found the sisters of the Catholic Church (nuns) looking for increased freedom and autonomy. They had, for the most part, shed the antiquated habits that had become their trademark. Except for one sister. Her name was Sister Agnessa. She continued to wear the long habit and veil that I had grown up with. She was a tiny woman who moved quietly and efficiently throughout her domain, the art department. The boys were relentless in their teasing and questions about her attire. They told her that she should "get with the times" and change her habit to the newer, shorter style. She told them that she saw no reason to change what worked for her. In her I saw a woman who faithfully did all that was asked of her, and more. She was an effective teacher who was patient but demanding. She never accepted less than what she knew a student was capable of. I met with her in a retirement home a few years ago, just a few months before she left this life. She told me that she had grown up in rural poverty. The only way that she was able to get an education was to move into the convent in a nearby town and learn under the nuns there. She was later told that her best option was to study art and become an art teacher. It was not something that she had any desire to do, but there was a need for art teachers, and so she completed the training and became one. She was a good and faithful woman who obediently did what was asked of her, never compromising her principles. I know that I will always push myself a little farther than I think I can go, and that I will always remain faithful to the truths that have been taught to me because of the quiet service that this woman gave to me, her other students, and to God. ~ Leslie Nigh, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin *Practicing What You Preach* Even kids in trouble could find a friend in Fred Struiksma. I spent several years under Fred's teaching, guidance, example, leadership, and direction as my Scoutmaster. He was there for his boys and his Scouts like a second dad. He had a heart of gold and always a listening ear. Even when we pulled pranks or got into mischief, Fred would be there to scold us if necessary, then put his arms around us and build and strengthen us. Fred practiced, believed, and lived the Boy Scout Oath, Law, motto, and slogan. He encouraged boys to reach for their Eagle Scout Award, Duty to God award, and other Scouting and church awards. He taught us leadership through his personal example. He even took the time to come to my wedding up in Utah when he was living in San Diego, California. Fred encouraged me to get my Eagle Scout rank when I was seventeen. This was at a time in the early 1970s when Boy Scouting as a whole was very unpopular and wearing uniforms was totally unpopular also. Fred also encouraged me to do well in school, and as a result, most of the achievements, honors, and awards in my early life I owe to the example of Fred Struiksma. When I think of Fred, I think of the parable of the apple and the seed. You can count the number of seeds in an apple, but how many apples are there in a seed? That was the type of impact that Fred Struiksma had in my life and the lives of the other Scouts who had the privilege and opportunity to serve under him as their teacher, friend, mentor, and Scoutmaster. ~ David A. Achory *A Different Tune* While at Weber High School in 1959, I was a member of the A Cappella choir. The majority of the choir members were LDS, and so when our teacher told us we were going to learn a program of non-LDS religious songs in Latin, we were surprised and perhaps a little baffled as to his purpose. Little did I know of the joy this experience would bring. After "perfecting" the program, our director arranged to have us visit the old St. Benedict hospital in Ogden and perform our program for the nuns who ran the hospital. Although the audience was not large, it was obvious it was the most appreciative audience we had performed for. Upon completion of the program, many of these dear sisters came up to us with tears in their eyes and thanked us for the music that was so dear to their hearts. Even to this day when I think of that experience and our fantastic choir director, Joseph Graves, I am filled with gratitude for a teacher who taught us how to reach out beyond our own circle and share incredible music with some very wonderful, caring women. ~ Lynnette Hancock, North Ogden, Utah *Still Teaching* In the middle of my first grade year I moved to Lone Rock School, a tiny country school compared to my big school in Missoula, Montana. This little school had so many rules that you even had to ask to go to the bathroom. At my old school, we had a bathroom right in a corner of our classroom so we never had to ask. As the differences increased, I became more and more homesick for Missoula. My first grade teacher, Miss Gruba, could sense that I was really sad, so she called my first grade teacher in Missoula and asked her to send me a note from my old class. I still remember how excited I was to read all of my classmates' notes, not realizing how miraculous it was that I could read in first grade since I was a very dyslexic child. My mom still thinks she is a miracle worker. I had the chance to be in Miss Gruba's class again when I was in third grade and she moved up to teach third grade. I remember how creative she was and how she inspired all of us to be creative thinkers. I was very sad when I had to move away from Lone Rock School and leave Miss Gruba behind. When I graduated with my teaching degree, I had a hard time finding a teaching job near my husband's work. I finally applied as a part-time middle school teacher at Lone Rock School. Middle school was not the age group I had been hoping for. I took the job anyway just to get my foot in the door. Imagine my surprise when I found Miss Gruba still teaching there. For the next two years, as I gained my teaching wings, she left me little notes in my staff mailbox and mentored me when I had a particularly challenging student. Then, when she went to retire, she helped me prepare for the interview for her full-time third grade teaching position. I got the job. It was a very emotional time for me to go into her classroom in August and prepare it for my students that fall. So many things in that room reminded me of her and what she taught me so many years ago. I touch students' lives because she touched mine. Thank you very much, Dorthy Gruba. You are an exceptional teacher. ~ Amy Reed *A Love for Learning* While looking through the list of prerequisites for my major, I dreaded the thought of taking microbiology. My reluctance came from my belief that microbiology was nothing but staring through a microscope at specks on a slide--in other words, boring. My outlook changed when I walked into Dr. James Jensen's classroom at Utah Valley University. From the first lecture, I was hooked. He taught in a way I have never experienced before. Incorporating world history, humor, personal experiences and knowledge, microbiology soon became my favorite subject. I felt it was a privilege to listen to Dr. Jensen lecture, and my fellow students regarded him as highly as I did. Every day after class, as students left the classroom, I heard comments like, "He is the best." Dr. Jensen worked for the World Heath Organization for several years in Africa trying to create a treatment for malaria. He discovered seven new antibiotics and published many papers about microbiology. His experience-based knowledge was refreshing. He did not need to teach us, (he had long since retired), but he wanted to share his knowledge and help us "learn more about microbiology than we wanted to know." While he taught us, his wife was in the hospital with bone marrow cancer. He still came to class everyday, knowing his wife could pass away at anytime. He truly cared for his students. Dr. Jensen inspired me to learn, to thirst after knowledge. His greatness was apparent through the change for good in his students. ~ Ryan
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