My favorite teacher wasn’t who I thought it was at first

In a heartfelt reflection on educators, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Melanie shares how she grappled with choosing just one favorite teacher

Yesterday, I was trying to set up a login for an online account and was prompted to answer a question that stumped me. You know the typical questions to keep hackers at bay: mother’s maiden name, or name of first pet, or town where you were born. Easy.

But I was asked to name my favorite teacher. One name! It’s like being asked to pick your favorite scent. Do you say it’s freshly baked cookies, a crackling campfire, or the soothing fragrance of lavender?

I grew up in Indiana, Pa., and positive memories of my teachers from my hometown public school district popped into my mind like fireworks. I fondly remembered the elementary teacher who must have been a closet playwright, because she made reading a hoot by incorporating in her reading class her one-of-a-kind plays for us to read aloud.

I pictured one of my elementary gym teachers, cheering me on like a sports commentator as I dangled from the pullup bar across the doorway while she timed my flexed-arm hang. She made me feel like an Olympic athlete. The teacher who mailed me a handwritten note after my ankle surgery came to mind next. And the high school civics teacher, who gave voter registration cards as thoughtful and practical 18th birthday gifts, something I still use to this day.

Would I choose the teacher who stayed after school to help me learn lines for a competition? The one who held math class outside when the weather was nice, or the teacher who incorporated hands-on projects in nearly every science lesson?

I couldn’t pick out just one teacher who’d been my favorite. Maybe I could type in a single group of teachers. My fingers hung over the keyboard like a hesitant trapeze artist, as I tried to organize my memories into categories. Like “business teachers.” After all, I am a business owner now and grateful for the foundational skills they provided. They taught me how to operate the school store, maintain accounting records, and explore avenues for entrepreneurship. One even hopped on a call with me recently to guide me through the intricacies of my business plan.

Or perhaps I should go with the six years worth of French teachers. They not only taught me the language, but also introduced me to French culture through delicious homemade yule logs and even arranged the foreign exchange program that enabled me to study in France. France! My thoughts shifted toward coaches and how their lessons — always arrive early and ready, a team is a team on and off the court, and you’re in charge of your attitude — are forever woven into who I am.

With all the amazing educators out there, surely other people have also struggled to pick just one favorite teacher to name for their online security answer. How are we supposed to choose just one?

Then, it dawned on me — the true essence of teaching goes beyond individuals. It’s the collective impact of the community of educators who have dedicated their expertise to shaping young minds and hearts. Using the typing skills that I learned from my keyboarding teachers, I clicked the letters to spell my hometown public school district.

To every teacher out there, please know that your positive influence extends far beyond the moments you have with your students. Each of you has contributed a unique thread in the tapestry of education that stays with your students long after they’ve left school.

Thank you, Indiana Area School District, for being my favorite teacher — not as a single person, but as a remarkable group of educators that shaped who I am today.

First Published May 10, 2023, 5:45am in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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