February is all about hearts and flowers, and our magazine this month is sending a lot of love to our local unsung heroes: teachers.
However long we spent time in classrooms, we all have at least one teacher who impacted our life. Teachers saw us at our best and sometimes our worst, some knew exactly what to say to us while others weren’t always the kindest, but most importantly, there were a few who encouraged us to be the best version of ourselves. Whether they know it or not, they continue to be influential today.
My first grade teacher, Mr. Wasinger, was one of the kindest teachers I was lucky enough to have at such a young age. He taught me the power of being a good listener and always being there for your friends. When my grandfather passed away, Mr. Wasinger knew exactly what to say to make those first few days a little easier on me. He also took us on some amazing field trips — those are important too! — that opened my eager little eyes up to the world around me.
My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Otte, started every morning with a high-five and ended the day with a hug. She was the “cool teacher” because she knew how to make us laugh and she always had the best activities planned. Even though this was a grade level when subjects got a little more difficult — I had a few meltdowns over fractions, multiplication and division — Mrs. Otte could always spot a struggling student in the crowd and provide extra help when necessary. I gained a lot more confidence in math from her, and I thankfully never had problems with the subject as I got older.
As I moved through middle school and high school, my teachers became more and more important to me. My eighth grade English/language arts teacher, Miss Smith, made me fall in love with writing and reading in a way I never thought possible. Her classroom was where I explored my creativity and had an inkling that maybe I could pursue a career in it one day. She also always knew when there was something wrong — I was always a happy, bubbly student so it was easy to spot — and did her best to make me feel better. When my grandmother passed away and I wasn’t able to attend the funeral in Bosnia, she provided me with words of comfort and hugs that helped more than she probably imagined.
English teachers always had a place in my heart, and sophomore year I met Mrs. Klingner, who had an infectious laugh and wicked sense of humor. We bonded over our Yugoslavian heritage and love of theater. One thing I still kick myself over is not auditioning for one of the school plays or musicals that she directed.
In college, I was so privileged to be surrounded by so many brilliant minds. Two great journalists, John Plevka and Rick Jones, influenced me greatly during those four years and honestly taught me everything I know. They were great professors and mentors during my time at Illinois State University, and today I consider them even greater friends who regularly check in with their California gal.
It just goes to show you what great teachers can do for us. Of course, this past school year was filled with unprecedented challenges. But somehow, teachers continue to inspire their students and be there for them as best as they can. They really are superheroes, aren’t they?
Remember to reach out and thank the teachers in your lives. They have one of the most important and rewarding jobs on the planet and deserve way more credit for all the work they do!