Inspired by our documentary TEACH, we got talking about how we all have a favorite teacher we often think of, but that we rarely share these important stories out loud. So we've kicked off a contest asking readers to send us stories about the teacher who's had the biggest, most positive influence in their lives. And we're donating upwards of $10,000 to the schools of those teachers with the most and best entries.
We got going by asking some big names about teachers they loved. Take Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, who told us about the educator who helped him fall in love with learning:
“My high school math teacher made it cool to understand and appreciate the beauty of solving problems.”
Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who recently won a MacArthur genius grant for her work around students and grit, said:
“My English teacher in high school, Mr. Carr, was so delightful. He loved writing and words. Because of that I have always had a real love for language.”
And ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos told us about his best-loved teacher:
“Robert Crane, my 11th-grade AP History teacher, was one of the first teachers I had that got excited about government and politics. That made me excited about it as well.”
Then our reader stories began coming in, and they are seriously inspiring. Check out this excerpt from Eric Kellerer about his life-changing teacher Mr. Sorter at Morris Elementary School in McKinleyville, Calif.:
"Mr. Sorter found the key that unlocked a passion for learning. He placed a Super 8 camera in my hands and told me to tell a story. It was writing, math, history, and more, but it wasn’t schoolwork. It was an adventure. In his class we also built rockets, sang songs, gave speeches, and more. He took his class on a weeklong camping adventure as we studied ecology and history and science. Mr. Sorter challenged me to be much more than a label from a misguided second-grade teacher. He taught me to love to learn. Today, I get to teach teachers how to use today’s 'Super 8' cameras."
Or take this heartbreaking (and heart-mending) tale from our reader Karen Clauson about her teacher Mr. O'Donnell at Christopher Columbus High School in Massachusetts:
"During the next six weeks he nurtured my mind and soul in a way no other teacher had done before! He respected my shyness and fear of being the center if attention but nurtured my tortured soul in so many ways. Mr. O'Donnell remained part of my education journey for my remaining high school years. I truly believe he was sent by God to nurture my broken spirit! I went on to become a teacher in early childhood, obtain my master's degree in management and leadership! I'm a director of a child care center, an adjunct faculty member at Springfield College, exploring postgraduate work at UMass, and am blessed with a beautiful 16-year-old daughter! Not a day goes by that I don't think about Mr. O'Donnell, and I thank God every day for allowing him into my life to save me!"
So right about now we're feeling like this was a pretty spectacular idea, and we're hoping you'll send us your story to help us grow the donation pile ($1 added for every story up to $50,000!), honor your teacher, and possibly win money for your school. So tell us, who's your teacher hero?
This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.