A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

17 Reasons My Favorite Teacher Changed My Life

It only takes one person to make a difference in the life of another—and teachers are often that person. Check out these inspirational stories.

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Misha Kaura
Courtesy Misha Kaura

She was pre-med before a teacher believed in her as an artist

“I was pre-med for most of college until I took an intensive art course my senior year called Textile Design. I had already been admitted to a top-three medical school and decided to take the course only to fulfill a general education requirement. I worked harder in that class than in my chemistry and pre-med courses—I spent many nights working on projects. After the course was over, my teacher took me aside and said I had enormous potential in the arts. Her encouragement helped me get an apprenticeship at Christian Dior Couture. I’m now one of the youngest top designers in the world, and I wouldn’t be where I am without her encouragement to chase the unknown.” —Misha Kaura, CEO and Creative Director of Darlinghurst Enterprises. If you or your kids are heading back to school, you need the right supplies. That’s why you should follow the 18 shopping secrets teachers use when buying back-to-school supplies.

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Colette Coleman
Courtesy Colette Coleman

A teacher’s praise made all the difference

“I’ll never forget my high school English teacher and her encouragement. I had some teenage insecurities, and she consistently built up my confidence with praise based on my work in her class. She encouraged me to apply to Ivy League colleges, and though I initially protested, with her support throughout the application process I was accepted into several! This was a surprise to me, but she knew all along that I had what it took to get in. Without her encouragement, though, I wouldn’t have ever applied.” —Colette Coleman, founder of Coleman Strategy.

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Krista Suh
Courtesy Rachael Lee Stroud

Her professor’s words of affirmation changed everything

“When I was a student at Barnard College, I took a writing seminar. Anne Lake Prescott, one of the most highly respected professors at Columbia University, would teach us. We were instructed to write a two-page essay to introduce ourselves. She wrote back to me: You, missy, are a writer. I look forward to your novels and poems. I had been pre-med and this was what I needed—for someone to pluck me out of a crowd and whisper to me, “You can do this. You already are.” —Krista Suh, screenwriter, artist, author, and creator.

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Froswa Booker Drew
Courtesy Froswa Booker Drew

A house fire left her displaced, but her teacher found room in her heart

“When I was in high school my home caught on fire, and due to smoke and water damage I had to move in with my grandparents. In order to deal with the enormous stress, my refuge became school and after-school activities. Sharon Settlemire, a fencing teacher, encouraged me to consider running for office in high school. Ms. Settlemire saw something in me and encouraged me to move beyond my comfort zone. I ran for Student Representative and to my surprise, I won. Having Ms. Settlemire was a lifeline.” —Froswa Booker-Drew, author and consultant.

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Terina Nicole Hill
Courtesy Terina Nicole Hill

Her teacher got her into a better school and a safer life

“One day in sixth-grade art class, my teacher, Mr. Dee, a larger than life man, read the names of the students who had been accepted into an art-and-music focused junior high school across town. When he read my name, my life forever changed. The local junior high was so bad, I would have had to deal with a dangerous environment of daily fights, stabbings, and shootings. Instead, I took three public buses to get across town daily to take two hours of art and honors classes.” —Terina Nicole Hill, designer. 

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Francine DiFilippo
Courtesy Francine DiFilippo

He taught her to think her way through anything

“I was a student having trouble with declaring my major and, as a first-generation college female, trying to decide what going to college would achieve for me. I was 19 and well aware that it was a ‘fish or cut bait’ decision I had to make. I was worried, but my Comparative Arts teacher Harry Miller told me that it didn’t matter. I would do well because I could think. When I am looking for new opportunities or evaluating ones presented to me, I know I can think my way to a good outcome.” —Francine Difilippo, PhD.

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Olivia Cole
Courtesy Olivia Cole

The five words from a teacher that still impact her today

“In high school, I put together a book of poetry and fiction to read aloud in front of a large group. I broke down crying on stage. I collected myself and somehow got through the presentation. Afterward, my English teacher Cia White gave me a card that read: You are the real thing. Somehow she knew not only my greatest fear but also my greatest aspiration. I think about those words every single day. My second book, An Anatomy of Beasts, comes out with HarperCollins next year.” —Olivia Cole, author and blogger. Teachers have a talent for picking out students’ greatest dreams, and they want to make sure you know what they are. Here are 33 more things your child’s teacher wants you to know.

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Steve Sonntag
Courtesy Steve Sonntag

Her dedication left a legacy

“Mrs. Bernice Cannon was my high school Spanish teacher. It wasn’t anything that she said, but it was her continuous dedication and her continuous care to be thorough. I greatly admired her—so much so that I became a Spanish, German, Latin, English, and Academic Decathlon teacher and mentor teacher. Mrs. Bernice Cannon was and still is my inspiration, even though she last taught me 56 years ago!” —Steve Sonntag, retired educator.

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Joshua Lewis
Courtesy Joshua Lewis

Her encouragement helped him leave his comfort zone

“I attend an after-school program called Young at Arts where I learned singing, acting, and dancing. My favorite teacher at Young at Arts was Mrs. Whitney. She has changed the way I look at life in many ways. Before Mrs. Whitney came to Young at Arts, I didn’t really like dance and I was afraid to try anything I didn’t already know I would be successful at. Mrs. Whitney talked me through times when I was frustrated with not only dancing, but with singing, acting, or with life in general. She taught me that your attitude when working with others can be more important than your talent.” —Joshua Lewis, student. 

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Stacey Natal
Courtesy Stacey Natal

Her love of the environment struck a nerve

“My fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Larizza, was very progressive. She was into nature and ecology. She took a square patch of land near our schoolyard in the Bronx and taught our class how to create a garden. She gave us seeds and showed us how to plant and care for it. We went on a field trip to a park to look for dandelions to bring back to our class and make a salad! One thing that really stuck with me was when she explained how dyes were bad for the environment. To this day I only buy all white paper towels and napkins. She definitely made me more health conscious and aware of my environment.” —Stacey Natal, photographer.

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Kerry Wekelo
Courtesy Val Bey

His inspirational book led her to write her own

“My Management teacher, Chris Neck, at Virginia Tech set me on a path that I am still voyaging today. He had written a book that was part of the required reading for the class, Medicine for the Mind: Healing Words to Help You Soar. His class and book were the beginning of the realization that professionally I wanted to inspire teams. I recall sitting in class dreaming that someday maybe I could have my words in a book and stand before a group, inspiring others. His passion for leading by example motivated me to be my best.” —Kerry Wekelo, author, director, and program creator of Culture Infusion. Giving students relevant books to read is a subtle but effective strategy teachers use to help students succeed.

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Allen Klein
Courtesy Allen Klein

He helped him achieve his childhood dream

“Since I was seven years old and went to see my first Broadway musical, I had wanted to be a scenic designer. But it wasn’t until I went to Hunter College in New York City that I met a teacher who helped me pursue my dream. Charles Elson was a set and lighting designer for both Broadway and the opera. He got me into Yale Drama School. It was because of him that, after Yale, I got to design such television shows as Captain Kangaroo, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Jackie Gleason Show. I am most grateful to him for his encouragement and support. It certainly changed my life and fulfilled the career I had longed for since childhood.” —Allen Klein MA, CSP.

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James Owen
Courtesy Robert Dawson

Her honesty set him on a new path

“In my junior year of high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Matthews, was especially encouraging. One day after class, she praised my work and said, ‘Jim, you’ve got a real gift for the written word.’ I replied, ‘Cream rises to the top.’ ‘That’s true,’ Mrs. Matthews said after a long hesitation, ‘But if you want to make the most of your gift, you need to develop a work ethic. Otherwise, you will never reach your full potential.’ She added, ‘You’ll also find that the higher you go in the world, the more competition there is, and the harder you have to work to succeed.’ That was my epiphany, and it set me on the path I’ve taken ever since.” —James P. Owen, authorIt takes a passionate person to educate a future generation—here are 15 powerful reasons why teachers love their jobs.

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Frank Baxter
Courtesy Frank Baxter

His passion for music led to a life spent sharing it

“My junior high music teacher, Victor J. DalPozzal, truly loved music. He graduated from New England Conservatory of Music and he lived, ate, and breathed music. Mr. D, as we all came to call him, had boundless energy when it came to talking music—he got us all excited about music from around the world! He explained how music from Africa related to jazz, and how minstrel and slave music led to the blues, and how most music today owes something to the classical masters of previous centuries. We became friends. Although he taught me and countless others the language of music, I think the most important lesson I learned was to share the music.” —Frank Baxter, founder of pianoworld.com.

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Luke Harris
Courtesy Luke Harris

Her encouragement led him to an extraordinary career

“During high school, I took a science research class with my teacher, Mrs. Mary Kroll. We had to complete a research assignment, so I started reading scientific journals on killer whales related to genetic studies. With the encouragement of Mrs. Kroll, I contacted SeaWorld to see if they would help me with my research. SeaWorld emailed me back, and we were completely shocked. I’ve worked with trainers in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio in the parks. I graduated this past spring and am now studying marine science at the University of Delaware.” —Luke Harris, student. 

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Benedict Beckeld
Courtesy Benedict Beckeld

His vast knowledge inspired her to explore

Benedict Beckeld, PhD, was my favorite teacher. He shared so much knowledge with us, it was awesome and unforgettable. His knowledge of the world makes me want to explore everything God created. It was hard to say goodbye. There comes a time in life when you feel like you’ve lost everything, but you have to move on. I’m grateful God blessed me with such a great teacher and brother as Dr. Beckeld.” —Jill Tjingaete, member of the Namibian Herero Tribe and student.

Next, find out the real reason why people give teachers apples.

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Ashley Eckstein
Courtesy Ashley Eckstein

His prediction led to her happily ever after

“In fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Holt, told the whole class that something special would happen on our Golden Birthday. Your Golden Birthday is when you turn the same age as the day of the month you were born. So when I was 10 years old, I believed Mr. Holt and began to count down the days until I turned 22 on September 22nd. Fast forward to Sept. 22, 2003, my Golden Birthday FINALLY arrived. My friends decided to set me up on a blind date and I went out on my first date with my now husband, David Eckstein. It was love at first sight! Mr. Holt was right, something special did happen on my Golden Birthday—I met my husband! Right before my wedding, I called Mr. Holt and told him what had happened and that his prediction came true for me!” —Ashley Eckstein, actress, businesswoman, and author. If you were inspired by these testimonies on teachers, you should definitely check out these 7 true stories that will remind you why teachers are amazing.

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.