Inspiring Teachers

Good teachers change lives and make us into someone better than we were before. Below are some stories by a few famous people whose teachers play a significant role in making who they are today.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller had beautiful memories of her favourite teacher, Anne Sullivan who was also her companion for 50 years. At 19 months old, Helen contracted an unknown illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain”, which was believed to be scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. When she joined Perkins Institute for the Blind, 20 years old Anne Sullivan was her instructor.

Sullivan was also partially blind so she could understand Helen’s frustrations. She began teaching Helen to communicate by spelling words in her hand, beginning with “d-o-l-l” for the doll that she brought Helen as a present. However, Helen was frustrated at first as she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. When Sullivan was trying to teach Helen the word “mug”, Helen was so frustrated that she broke the mug. It took her awhile to imitate Sullivan’s hand gestures and understand the mystery of language.

It was Sullivan’s nurturing and patient nature that brought Helen out of her dark and scary world. After a month or so, Helen became very excited and curious to know the names of all the other familiar objects in her world. Ever since then, she never stopped learning and at the age of 24, Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and went on to become a world-famous motivational speaker about Deaf people’s conditions and accomplished author. In 1955, Keller was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes.

Helen showed us that every willing student can learn, with the help of a good educator.

She wrote…
“It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me. She realised that a child’s mind is like a shallow brook which ripples and dances merrily over the stony course of its education and reflects here a flower, there a bush, yonder a fleecy cloud: and she attempted to guide my mind on its way, knowing that like a brook it should be fed by mountain streams and hidden springs, until it broadened out into a deep river, capable of reflecting in its placid surface, billowy hills, the luminous shadows of trees and the blue heavens, as well as the sweet face of a little flower. Any teacher can take a child to the classroom, but not every teacher can make him learn. He will not work joyously unless he feels that liberty is his, whether he is busy or at rest; he must feel the flush of victory and the heart-sinking of disappointment before he takes with a will the tasks distasteful to him and resolves to dance his way bravely through a full routine of textbooks. My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. How much of my delight in all beautiful thing is innate, and how much is due to her influence, I can never tell. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her – there is not a talent, or an aspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.”

Bill Gates

Mrs Caffiere is very special to Bill Gates. He described her as a kind, elegant and engaging school librarian and teacher at Seattle’s View Ridge Elementary who played an important role in his life. She stoked his passion for learning at a time when he was a timid fourth grader. He had illegible handwriting and a messy desk. He also liked to be unnoticed and hid the fact that he loved to read. She made him feel it was perfectly alright to be a messy nerd. She got him out of his shell by sharing her love for books and through their many conversations in the library and classroom about the books they loved, they became good friends.

He wrote,” If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou was best known as a poet, author, speaker, influential teacher who spoke six languages and civil rights activist. She was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was eight years old and he was jailed for only a day. Few days later, he was beaten to death by Maya’s uncles.

“I thought, my voice killed him,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.” So she stopped speaking for five years. Depressed and withdrawn, she buried herself in books. It was a local teacher, Bertha Flowers, who helped her speak again. Maya wrote, “I don’t think I ever saw Mrs Flowers laugh, but she smiled often. When she chose to smile on me, I always wanted to thank her.”

Flowers told Maya,” Your grandmother says you read a lot. Every chance you get. That’s good, but not good enough. Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.” She also challenged Maya to read her poem aloud, “You do not love poetry, not until you speak it. Language is man’s way of communicating with his fellow man, and it is language alone which separates him from the lower animals.”

When Maya heard the poems coming alive from her own lips, it was a breakthrough for her. At age 13, after many years of silence, she finally spoke again. It was Flower’s patience, wisdom, encouragement, love and grace she gave to Maya that touched her soul and changed her life.