16 Apr Teachers Who Changed My Life
Commentary, Various Authors
At my high school, Omega Continuation High School, there were only three teachers: Roland Nazar, Mary Zolly and Margaret Love. They were all great in their own way. We had school baseball games and BBQs where everyone had fun – we were like one big family.
The teachers all taught multiple subjects, and together it seemed there was nothing they couldn’t do. Mr. Nazar taught History, Government, Economics, Physical Education and Art. Ms. Zolly taught English, Creative Writing, Acting and Computer class. Ms. Love taught Math, Spanish and the Towards No Drug Abuse (TND) Class.
One thing that made a big difference in my life was the day Ms. Love asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. This was not something new to me — teachers have asked me this before, and I always gave them the same answer: “I don’t know.” But this time Ms. Love asked me the question in a different way – she asked what the basic things were that I cared about, and I said those would be art and teaching. Then she told me, “You don’t have to only be one thing. The greatest people in this world all do many things.”
What she said that day changed my life forever. It opened my eyes because I saw that, just like my three teachers, I didn’t have to do or be good at just one thing in life to be successful.
Growing up, I had a hateful relationship with teachers. If I wasn’t getting a referral or being sent to the office, then I was probably suspended. I wasn’t a bad kid; I just had a lot of energy — maybe too much. Making matters worse, a few of my teachers were full of it. They would say things like, “I get paid whether you learn or not.” Now how can any teacher be effective with an attitude like that? Instead of being motivated, I felt like school wasn’t worth my time. So eventually, I found something else to occupy it and pretty much stopped going.
Fortunately, there was one teacher who actually gave a damn: Ms. Sims, my 10th grade sociology teacher. Now, this lady was rugged and raw. If she had something on her mind, she’d say it whether I liked it or not (and it was usually not). She’d be like, “Sean! You need to come to my class sober, on time and ready to learn.” Mind you, she would say this in front of the whole class. If I came to class high, she would make me write about my experience, what triggered the high, and the health risks.
As a result, I wrote several pages on marijuana and a few about alcohol. The funny thing is, I was actually graded on those papers. Ms. Sims was the only teacher who didn’t fail me. I’d actually get good grades in her class, it seemed, without even trying.
Ms. Sims was so determined to turn me around that she’d call my mother everyday just to get me into class. If I missed a period, my mom would surely know about it, so I decided to just give her class a real try. Eventually, I found myself wanting to read and write, eager to learn. Ms. Sims taught me about my African history, that dreadlocks were a symbol of power and that the human race originated in Africa.
My experience with Ms. Sims is proof that a good teacher can bring inspiration, hope and a sense of accomplishment to even the toughest-to-reach students.
As a soon-to-be graduate of De Anza High School, I can honestly say I ran into quite a few teachers in my life. Some were funny, others were super-serious, and some did not want to have a personal relationship with any student whatsoever. But one teacher stood out to me the most: Steven Thomas.
I got to know him during the middle of my sophomore year, in physiology class. At the time I felt that he always singled me out and picked on me for no reason, but now I realize that there was a purpose behind it that was all for my benefit — he’d seen something in me that I did not see in myself during that time.
He taught me how to be an independent person and challenged me in ways that helped me develop the strong work ethic I have today. His Health Academy taught me to be professional, absorb information and take advantage of opportunities. The curriculum and standards he set for his students also prepared me for higher learning. When I graduate, I feel I’ll be well prepared to enter the health field.
He may not have always given me the attention that I demanded all the time, but that just taught me that I have to do what is necessary, without always expecting something in return.
Mr. Thomas is an all-around great individual. Most of the time he is misunderstood because of how he deals with misbehaving students, but if you really get to know him you can see that his mind is set on challenging students creatively to the point where they can think for themselves and even become role models for younger students. If I had not met him, I can honestly say I do not know what type of student I would be today. He is definitely part of the team that keeps me on track and I know he has my well-being at heart. I owe him a big thanks and recognition.
Her name was Ms. Gocker. She was my Creative Writing and English teacher at El Cerrito High School, and I was blessed to have her during my sophomore and junior years. Ms. Gocker was an honest, liberal lady who lived on the Lake Merritt side of Oakland. She was a writer who appreciated and praised unique poetry and non-fiction stories. The creative arts excited her and she cultivated a chill-inspiring vibe in her classroom. She was never judgmental, and always open to new ideas and the thoughts her students were eager to share. Her assignments were designed for a purpose: to allow us to explore our deeper selves and be confident in expressing our own creativity.
She taught me how to love words and the many ways they can be manipulated into works of art. I grew to recognize my talent and natural passion for writing poetry and songs due to her positive influence and daily lessons. There was one day in particular that still stands out among the rest — a day that I replay in my mind whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or at a standstill.
We’d been instructed to write a poem from a third-person perspective, describing an individual without revealing their name. I decided to write about a child’s experience living with an alcoholic parent. The poem was a page long, alternating between the child’s fear, the father’s irate behavior and the fragmented relationship between the two. I wrote the poem with the intention of having every word possess meaning and emotion. My goal wasn’t to get an A+ — it was to awaken the reader emotionally.
I completed the poem and turned it in, patiently awaiting Ms. Gocker’s scribbled comments on the top, bottom and side margins of my one-page poem. Later that week, Ms. Gocker returned our papers and there it was, her comment in the top right corner written in black ink: “YOU ARE A POET!”
After that day, my life changed completely. I’ve never stopped writing. I have accumulated hundreds of poems since high school, throughout my college years and after. In the last four years I’ve combined my poetry into two self-published poetry books, the first titled When Your Words Are Just Not Enough: Thoughts From a Young Black Woman, released in October 2008 and For the People, introduced in September 2012. Thank you, Ms. Gocker!