Who made a difference in your life?
Everyone has had an educator in their life who went above and beyond.
Read a few of the memories our employees and Renaissance Royals community shared about their favorite educators.
Archdiocese of Miami
Under Her Wing
When I began teaching almost 30 years ago, a veteran teacher took me under her wing. She was overwhelming and, as much as I tried to shy away from her help, she was always right there with me. Eventually, I started listening to what she was trying to tell me—that every child's voice matters. She worked with the students in her class that no one else wanted, but those kids flocked to her each day and came back to share their successes when they left.
I started to listen to the kids. If they were having a bad day or not doing well in class, maybe something was going on that was affecting them. Once I began connecting with them, they started learning.
I have continued using the lessons that she taught me to foster a love of reading and dedication to learning. Sadly, she passed away about 10 years ago, but her lessons will continue to live on in my classroom each year.
Clark County School District
Steven Zechariah was my high-school history teacher. He pushed for me to get into honors and AP history even though my grades didn't indicate I should be there. He signed me up for the academic decathlon over my objections. He refused to believe or accept the negative things other teachers said about me or what I thought about myself. Mr. Zechariah showed me what loyalty meant and was the epitome of support and understanding. He is the reason I became a teacher and I am forever grateful for being in his classroom and in debt to him as my friend.
Caldwell County Schools
I was never a good student. In the 60s, reading problems like dyslexia were not addressed the way they are today. By the time I graduated high school, I was done with school. Sadly, I can't share a heartwarming story about a teacher who made a positive difference. I could share stories of a different sort. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I became interested in education. I certainly didn't want their experience to be like mine.
I enrolled in a program for people interested in working daycare. It was intensive. I always did my homework and came to class prepared, unlike many others. One day I was venting my frustration for being the only one in the group who came prepared. The instructor said something to me that changed my life. She said that I should help those who were not gifted students like myself. I still remember how stunned I felt. Her comment caused me to reassess who I was and what I might be capable of. She empowered me with confidence to enroll in college and go on to get a degree in education so that I might empower others.
Connecticut Technical High School Sys.
The teacher who had the greatest impact on me was my tenth- and eleventh-grade English teacher Mr. Walsh. He used to write his own detective stories and would periodically share them with the class, especially when we were working on our own creative writing skills. He happily read plays and poetry that I wrote, even when it wasn't a class assignment. He even recommended me for different activities and encouraged me to enter my first poetry competition—in which I won first place! He is the reason I became an English teacher, and he continues to inspire me today!
WRPS School District
I can think of so many teachers who affected my life. My oldest sister became a teacher in spite, I think, of her brother being pesky about wanting to learn about reading and math growing up. The reason I am a math teacher has to go back to my seventh-grade math teacher, Mrs. Breidenstein, who challenged me in class to do more work and to complete challenges, knowing the work in class was easy for me and tests did little more than confirm that I grasped concepts quickly. Way before we focused on standards and on differentiation, Mrs. B knew that she had to keep me challenged or I would drive her crazy. So many times I finished tests early. I remember her giving me challenges after turning tests in, and I just smiled and went back to my desk. That has helped me challenge my math students to this day, giving them the same experience Mrs. B made possible for me—the chance to work hard and achieve to the best of their ability.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD
My first grade teacher Mrs. Garcia was an amazing teacher and, to this day, I can remember the fun we had. I remember we kept an incubator in our class full of baby chicks and watched them hatch. We got to watch and document the process everyday until the eggs started to crack and, soon after, we were able to hold them in our hands. Mrs. Garcia also planned a field trip to a farm where we milked cows and learned about the animals.
Another one of my favorite memories is how she taught us to read and the many books she had in her classroom library. She was my amazing first-grade teacher from Milam Elementary School in McAllen, Texas.
St. Croix Falls School District
So many teachers have had an impact on me, but one in particular stands out. Mrs. Rita Refner was my tenth-grade driver's ed teacher. The minute I saw her, I knew I would love her. Curly hair, a yellow scarf, pink lipstick, jean skirt, and yellow rain boots. She had a perky tone and gave students the same offer at the end of every class: "If anyone would care for a cup of tea, feel free to stop by!" To sum it up, Mrs. Refner was different, unique, quirky, and cool. One day I decided to take her up on her offer and stopped by for a cup of tea. That day, Mrs. Refner told me about how she had lost her husband to a crash with a drunk driver the year before. I asked her how she remained so positive. Her response, "What else am I going to do?"
Her sense of personal style, her incredible outlook, her kind heart, and her, well, her downright out-there coolness inspired me! I knew that there were lots of ways I wanted to emulate Mrs. Ref, as I came to call her. And I did. Thanks, in part to her example, I wasn't as troubled by my own unique qualities in high school as I might have been. Mrs. Ref showed me that being different is not only okay, it is wonderful.
Field Account Executive
My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Perry, is the one who developed my love of reading. I remember her reading Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and Superfudge aloud to our class. My favorite part was the way she used different voices for each character. She also made our weekly trips to the library to check out our own books a can’t-miss event by making it fun and being there with us to help us choose books she knew we would like and even love.
Without her having fostered my love of reading, I am not sure I would be in the ed tech world today, where I can use my passion for kids and learning to make a difference and make a living. I am also pretty sure I would not have passed my love of reading on to my own kids. The best part of it all is that I had her again as a sixth grade ELA teacher!
Grand Blanc Community Schools
I was a struggling reader myself in second grade. We met in reading groups at the kidney-shaped table with the teacher, and I was in the "turtle" group. I remember reading a story about bluebirds, their characteristics and habitats. The teacher looked at each one of us and told us we, too, could be bluebirds and soar through the sky going anywhere we wanted by reading a variety of books. Books take us places, imaginary or real. From that day forward, I couldn't put books down. I have been to the ocean, in a castle, to the wild wild west, etc. She made reading so enjoyable and not just a task to complete. I will never forget that moment!
Social Media Manager
Most eight- and nine-year-olds have very little understanding about what it is that adults do each day or why. Adolescents stumble through “real-life” lessons in the real world, without having the opportunity to practice first.
Mrs. Martinek, my third-grade teacher, used a two-week community simulation called “Classville” to teach the fundamentals of real life. The Classville community simulation provided a platform to practice and learn about real skills in a safe, low-risk, contextual environment—a cardboard town lining our classroom. Each student owned or co-owned their own business and was responsible for everything. My classmates and I unwittingly practiced finance, democracy, business, debate, networking, success, failure, entrepreneurship, and more. We learned how to work together as a community and achieve goals individually. It never felt like work and it never felt like practice: it felt real.
Mrs. Martinek facilitated the simulation and gave us the tools and insight that we needed, but let us work through our own challenges. Classville added meaning to every class I took from third grade on. More than 20 years later I still look back on the lessons I learned from Mrs. Martinek with great fondness and gratitude.
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD
The only teacher I can remember who really affected my life was my fifth-grade teacher. She was such a great educator, but above all she was such a nurturing person. Growing up with a single parent was tough. My mother worked extra shifts, so we really didn't get to interact on a daily basis. But Mrs. Davis always shared her motherly love. She praised us so much that she filled that emptiness. Now that I'm a teacher, not only do I educate my students but I show them that I care for their well-being, too. Mrs. Davis, thank you for caring.
Brorson School District
I have always been a good student, never had issues in school. Some of that changed in high school. I was a middle-class, white, Republican girl growing up in California, a state full of other students who were multi-cultural and Democrat. I always struggled with my history teachers because my point of view was not respected or listened to. That was until my senior year in Government class. It was not long into the school year that my teacher, Mr. Diehl, recognized my different point of view. He called me to stay back after class. He let me know that he respected my point of view and would like me to share it more openly because it was important to see both sides of the issues. He quickly became one of my favorite teachers and gave me a confidence about my point of view that was really important. It was an honor to shake his hand as I walked across the stage at graduation, and he taught me to always respect the differences of my students and use that to strengthen my classroom!
Portage Community School District
There is not a time that I can recall that I didn't LOVE school—especially elementary school. I have appreciated all of my elementary teachers, but one who I was especially fond of was Mrs. Sylvia Troxel. She was my first-grade teacher and the reason I wanted to become a first-grade teacher. I remember her as being a kind-hearted, patient, and nurturing teacher. I loved the way she taught. She gave whole-group instruction and then worked with us in small groups for reading instructions. She was my inspiration, and my face lights up with a smile when I think of her.
My grandma, Gloria Bathke, was principal for many years at St. Mary’s in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. She had a profound influence on my love of reading, my education, and my devotion to the mission of Renaissance. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in her office after school, at her big desk, sorting papers, organizing pencils, and dreaming of becoming a teacher or a librarian. Luckily, around this time my grandma met Judy Paul, and along with other inspiring St. Mary’s staff, committed the school to piloting a new and exciting program—Renaissance Accelerated Reader®.
Many years have passed, and many Accelerated Reader quizzes have been taken, since I was that young girl at her grandma’s desk. What I’ve gained on my journey to adulthood, with my grandma’s help, is a deep passion for education, and the desire to motivate and inspire students to find thrill and adventure through reading.
I think of her every day when I look at the old glass paperweight that sits on my desk. The same paperweight sat on her desk years ago, and I know she would be proud of me. Love and thanks to the memory of my grandma and the impression she left on me!
Marketing Communications Specialist
I went to college with absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do. I went through several majors—communications, economics, and a few others—to no avail. At one point, I was leaning toward a career in law. It wasn’t until I had LJ for one of my English classes that I felt at home. Her always-calm demeanor, approachability, and gripping stories that more or less always ended up in life lessons made her classes my absolute favorites. LJ’s enthusiasm for writing inspired me to minor in creative writing and eventually declare a major in journalism with an emphasis in public relations, which led me to where I am today.
Thank you, LJ, for being a great teacher. I have no doubt that I owe my love of writing to you!
Sr. Manager, Event Experience
We simply called her “Madame.” She was my French teacher in ninth, eleventh, and twelfth grades—I didn’t have her in tenth-grade French, which meant I enjoyed it far less. The walls of Madame’s classroom were covered in posters of French artists, from Fragonard to Degas to Pissarro to Seurat, because after the French language, her second love was art history.
During the last 15 minutes of class each day, she would dim the lights, turn on a slide projector, and click through slides of French artists, teaching us about their lives, their loves, their heartbreaks, and how all that was reflected in their subjects. We learned their unique techniques and how to recognize their brush strokes. Slide carousel after carousel, we memorized their works and learned to appreciate why they chose their subject matter. By Friday of each week, we’d come to know at least five new artists, and we would be quizzed on what we’d learned. I almost always got 100 percent on these quizzes. I was hooked on art history.
Thank you, Madame Anderson, for teaching me to speak French and, more importantly, to love and appreciate art history as much as you did.
Being a girl in sixth grade is tough. But being the first girl in the family to reach puberty and not have the social skills or friend network to weather the storm that comes with that experience—that made it extra tough. I was not privileged with the kind of street knowledge or education that comes with a tight group of friends at teenage girl parties and awkward school dances. I had book knowledge and the kind of education that comes with the responsibilities of helping two struggling parents raise eight children.
Therefore, there was a lot I didn’t notice about the temperature changing in our sixth-grade class before it actually turned cold. I was outed. Not by a few girls, but by all the girls in the class. To this day, I’m not one hundred percent sure what it was that created the tipping point, but I still remember the face of the girl that made it happen.
More importantly, I remember the face of the teacher that helped me survive that experience.
Mrs. Heller, our sixth-grade teacher, was better known to the popular kids as the “hellish teacher.” She was strict, she did not accept laziness or failure, and she knew every mean-girl’s game, every snotty boy’s trick. She also had a heart of gold. Mrs. Heller cared more than any other teacher I have ever experienced.
The sixth grade “mean girls” bullied me relentlessly, so much so that I spent lunchtime buried in books to escape, and recess in an empty classroom. Almost empty, that is. Mrs. Heller gave up her usual free time during recesses to spend it with me. She knew those girls were trying to reduce me to nothing. She reminded me I was worth something. She spent countless personal hours helping me with art projects, teaching me skills to improve my spelling, and giving me research tips on how to improve reports. She forced me to push harder and excel as a student.
Mrs. Heller gave me the confidence I didn’t think I had, and personal one-on-one time to improve my weaknesses. She helped me to become a self-reliant knowledge seeker, to move beyond a situation that could have crippled me. If she were still alive today, I would seek her out and give her a hug for her saving grace.
So, thank you to all the teachers out there who notice the kids on the social fringe. Thank you for your sacrifice to be not only a mentor, but the saving grace for all those who need you at that particular time in their lives. You are heroes.
I met one of my most inspirational teachers well after high school and college. In fact, I met him when I had already been working for 10-plus years.
From starting out as an accountant to growing to become a CFO, decision-making was a cornerstone. However, at times, careful decision-making actually became decision avoidance.
Fast-forward to my role as CFO of the Food Network, where our leadership team was holding multiple meetings to discuss and re-discuss what we might do with new shows, advertising campaigns, and all manner of business considerations. Our motto might have been “why resolve today, what we can discuss again tomorrow?”
Then enter one of my favorite mentors, Eric, who joined Food Network as CEO after being President of CBS News for 15 years. Eric took me under his wing and involved me in everything at the network.
After two weeks, I had a question for him about an observation that perplexed me during our initial time together. I asked, “Eric, how do you make decisions about so many issues so quick? We are so used to scheduling many meetings to discuss and review what we want to do.” Eric response are words I have carried with me from that day forward.
Eric said, “Mike, everyone is comfortable making those 50% of decisions that are easy, and struggle with the 50% that are hard. Often the conclusion is to make those 50% of the decisions that are easy and feel you are batting 1,000 because you don’t get anything wrong. That’s actually batting 500 because you are not making the 50% that are hard and may not go your way. I will make all the decisions that I need to, and I will be wrong 10% of the time, but you know what, that means I’m batting 900, and that’s okay with me, because it’s a lot better than 500.”
From that day forward, my goal has always been to bat 900!
Sr. Inside Account Executive
I want to say thank you to Mrs. DeVoe, one of my high school English teachers. She is the reason I was able to complete my high school classes with straight A’s and get into the college of my choice. I owe a lot to her for trusting and believing in me.
My family didn’t have a computer, and I had a lot of papers to write for my advanced classes. Plus, I wanted to go to college, and that required entrance essays, and applying for every scholarship I could possibly find. Since I worked every night after school, I couldn’t get to the library before it closed. I don’t remember how she found out about my situation, but Mrs. DeVoe spoke with the night janitor about letting me into the school and into her classroom after work so that I could use a computer. I’d often be there until 10 or 11pm, diligently working on college applications, scholarship essays, and research papers.
To this day, I don’t know if anyone besides the three of us knew about my late nights in her classroom, but I can’t thank her enough for trusting me, and for helping give me the resources I needed to succeed.
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
A Weather Lesson & Miss Jenny
My eighth-grade science teacher told us that one fact we would never, ever forget was that “evaporation causes cooling.” And he was right! Every single time I get out of the shower this phrase comes into my head. I am immediately transported back to his classroom, remembering the joy I experienced while learning about science that year through some really amazing projects, like creating insect and rock collections. Everything I know today about clouds and weather I learned from him, too.
I will be forever thankful to my son’s first-grade teacher. He had a rough start his kindergarten year, had little interest in learning, and started first grade way behind his peers. He had a few mild developmental issues that had some impact on his learning, and Miss Jenny made all the difference, with her commitment and determination to help my son however she could, her flexibility to recognize and make adjustments to help him learn to the best of his ability, her care and nurturing of his spirit, and the easy rapport and frequent, ongoing communication she had with us. For a kid who hated kindergarten, Miss Jenny was a lifesaver, creating a place that he really enjoyed coming to and thus providing the right foundation at a critical time for building his love of learning. He is now a straight-A student about to enter high school!
Director, PR & Communications
I was in third grade when I realized that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I would tell anyone who listened that I was going to write a million books, and I was going to handwrite them all, because at eight years old, I wanted to be authentic—none of that typewriter stuff.
Attending a rural school in northeast Wisconsin, I was far away from the wonders of the world—but fortunately, I had my Gifted & Talented teacher, Mr. Powers—or, as we liked to call him, “Mr. P.” He was the first person in my life to show me that geography wasn’t a barrier, and that books and writing provided me an opportunity to learn about the world around me as well as create worlds of my own.
I distinctly remember Mr. P telling me about the laughing hyenas that resided in sub-Saharan Africa. I became obsessed with them. What followed—a “novel” about a hyena who had lost his laugh—was the first of many literary masterpieces over my elementary, middle, and high school years. Mr. P was my go-to teacher for all of it, and was the one who lobbied my school to allow me to do an independent study in creative writing my senior year. He took a budding writer under his wing and gave me the encouragement and resources I needed. Mr. P, you’re still the absolute BEST.
Director, Brand & Creative Services
My passion for design, brand, and marketing can be traced back to my childhood when I was in sixth grade at Hyland Elementary school in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
I had always treasured art class and Ms. Elsesser’s sixth-grade class was especially meaningful to my development as an artist. She fostered my creative talents through kindness and gentle guidance that bolstered my self-esteem and formed my artistic identity. I was painfully shy in grade school and Ms. Elsesser showed me how to communicate through art. What’s more, she cultivated the idea that I could have a successful lifelong career using my talents, which still rings true 32 years later.
I clearly remember a pivotal moment in my development, when I was struggling with a charcoal drawing of a local historical mansion, the Swan House. I was confounded by complex perspective angles and grew frustrated, ready to give up.
Ms. Elsesser’s calm demeanor and caring encouragement helped me create a piece that was chosen for a "US-USSR Youth Art Exchange" in 1985. My work traveled throughout Russia representing the talents of American students.
Because of my involvement with the youth art exchange, I formed a long-distance friendship with a Russian art student. In addition to teaching me about Alaina and her culture, the art exchange left me with an indelible impression of how art can connect people in a genuine way across cultures and continents.
I would like to thank Ms. Elsesser for her expert instruction and leadership, and for believing in my talent, especially at a time when I didn’t.
When I was a junior at an East Coast high school I decided to join the choir. At the time, I had played the trumpet for nearly seven years. Performing in front of an audience was not a new thing for me, but I was never comfortable doing it.
That year my choir teacher, Susan Rice, asked me to try out for the lead role in the school play, Pippin. I did. I got it. And I was scared out of my mind! I was out of my element. I had a lot of self-doubt. I think I quit two or three times. But Ms. Rice was persistent, albeit frustrated, and she never ever gave up on me. Ever. In the end, I didn’t give up, either.
About 15 years later I ran into her and her husband at a school in Oregon, WI. I was flush with emotion. When she introduced me to her husband she said, "This is Marc, the boy from Pippin I always told you about." It seems I’d left as much of an impression on her as she had on me.
It was an experience and a lesson I never forgot: to believe in myself. The world is my audience. Show up every day. Be in the moment.
Technical Support Representative
One Last "A"
Near the end of my senior year of high school, like most students, I had a tendency to not work as hard on my school work as I should have. I won’t be coming back to this school, so why not have fun and enjoy the last few weeks?
That thinking was great until I realized that sloughing off in calculus class would prevent me from getting straight A’s for the year. My grades bordered on a B+ or A- for the final grade. I wanted an A for my final grade and tried talking my teacher into giving me an A anyway. After much discussion, he told me that if I worked hard and studied for the final exam and got 100 on it, he would consider giving me an A.
Well, I did study and I did get 100 on my final test, but instead of the A he gave me the A-. Naturally I was disappointed because an A- was still not an A. What good did studying do me if he wasn’t going to “reward” me? I asked him what happened to the A he told me I would get. He explained that he said he would consider giving me an A but more importantly he wanted me to realize that I had the potential to get the 100 on the test, if I would just take time to study and work hard. I came to realize that it was not the grade that mattered, but the lesson that was learned.
We all need to set goals and work hard to reach them. Even if it is not an A, you can feel good because you gave it your best try and discovered you have great potential if you just try.
By the time I got to fourth grade, I had already developed a strong sense that text was talk written down. But Mrs. Whitaker, my language arts teacher, took us far beyond that simple notion. She awakened in me the idea that my writing mattered and that I was writing for an audience. Each of us received a bound journal (I still have mine) for copying final drafts of the pieces we wrote throughout the year. On our early drafts, Mrs. W was as ruthless with the red pen as she was relentless with genuine praise.
Mr. Wesbrook (eighth-grade English) made serious headway on Mrs. Whitaker’s groundwork. A few weeks into class, he distributed a list of errors that were grounds for an automatic “F” on assignments: comma faults, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and missing apostrophes in possessive nouns—to name a few. After my first “F,” I was inspired to get serious and up my writing game in a hurry.
My heartfelt thanks to these and all the teachers who bring compassion and high standards to the classroom and hold their students to the same.
Rialto Unified School District
Sr. Ruperto Ortiz & Sr. Gustavo Vaquera
Many years ago, back in Mexico, sixth graders didn’t have a chance to go on to higher education. After the sixth grade, school was done because there weren’t any teachers willing to teach. My last day of sixth grade, my elementary teachers, led by Sr. Ruperto Ortiz and Sr. Gustavo Vaquera, announced that they would volunteer to teach seventh grade. The classes were from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. I was in that group of students. Thanks to them, I was able to finish seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. Years later, other teachers helped me get my teacher's credentials.
Notre Dame Catholic School
My mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage when I was 16. She was here one minute and gone the next. That was the year after I had Mrs. Williamson. Mrs. Williamson was fun, vivacious, and knew how to excite students about math. She also knew how to care for her students in and out of class. She found out that I wanted to compete in U.I.L. Poetry, so she became my coach. She gave up her time and her evenings to share with me how to be a public speaker. From all our hard work, I earned the right to compete in district U.I.L.
This story does not end there. We kept in contact, and after my sister and I graduated from high school, she invited us over during summer break. Mrs. Williamson taught me that teaching is more than just instructing your students. It is caring for them, knowing what is going on in their personal lives, and helping them be the best version of themselves.
Marysville School District
I have not heard many stories of inspirational teachers that involve college professors but mine does. I had a college professor who saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue a doctoral degree. If he hadn't reached out to me, I know I would never have walked through that door. I later leaned on that encouragement when the going got hard, and I told myself that, if Dr. E. thought I could do this, I ould do this. It carried me through to complete my doctoral program. Thank you, Dr. E.!
St. Gregory the Great Catholic School
I was a sophomore in high school when I met Mrs. Stokes for the first time. She was my math teacher, and I was honestly nervous about how she would be because my freshman-year math teacher was not very good. From the moment I entered Mrs. Stokes’ class, she made me feel comfortable. When I didn't understand something, she would already be asking me "what are you not understanding?" before I had even raised my hand. She never made me feel inferior for asking questions. She would say, "I'm here for you to learn, so don't ever worry about not understanding something. We all learn in different ways." I excelled in math that year, and it was all because of Mrs. Stokes. I went to visit her after I graduated high school and asked her how she always knew when I wasn't understanding something, and she said, "It was written all over your face." Thank you, Mrs. Stokes. I'm a teacher because of you! :)
Orange County Public Schools
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sniegocki, was the only teacher I had that truly believed in me. I was a shy student but very capable. She would talk to and encourage me to do my very best every day. By the end of the year, I was inducted into the National Elementary Honor Society with straight A's. I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher and could make a huge impact in others’ lives.