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.
Check out this submission from Cassie Cox, who shares her touching story about the teacher who changed the course of her life. Cassie credits her teacher and coach, John Coleman, at Clifton High School in Killeen, Texas, with getting her back on the right track:
“I was a teenage mother and a high school dropout. Although I only finished the 10th grade, today I hold a Master's Degree. I actually earned my high school diploma after earning my Master's Degree in Education. For the past 11 years I've been teaching in an alternative high school, and not a day goes by that I do not think about the indelible mark Coach John Coleman left on my life.
"Coach Coleman was my coach and my teacher. While I wasn't the most popular kid in school, he always made me feel like the most important person in his classroom. Coach Coleman always pushed me harder; he pushed me to do better and be better. It's been over 20 years since we've seen one another, but in his own way (and without knowing it), he continues to push me.
"I ran away from home at the very beginning of my 11th grade year after discovering I was pregnant. I was terrified. I was lost. I was confused. So I ran. For 4 months I ran giving my family and friends no information about my whereabouts. I simply lacked the skills to face my problems. And through it all, Coach Coleman's voice followed me. It nudged me back home. It nudged me towards earning my G.E.D. It nudged me towards my Bachelor's Degree. It nudged me towards my Master's Degree. Then, it pushed me back to school (the very school in which I currently teach) to earn the high school diploma I did not earn so many years ago. Coach Coleman was my hero when I was a scared teenager, and he is one of my heroes today as I work with students who are what I used to be.
"Teachers change lives, sometimes without even knowing it. Last year I was one of Utah's English Teachers of the Year. Coach Coleman, I have come so far. Thank you for always believing in me. Thank you for never allowing me to settle for 'good enough.' Thank you for pushing me to do better and to be better. Your lessons are a huge part of who I am today as a teacher in my own classroom, in a classroom where I encourage students to stay, in a classroom where I encourage them NOT to run, but to stand strong. Your decision to become a teacher saved a life—my life. Now, I'm striving to do the same for others.
Thank you, Coach Coleman.”
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.