This post was written in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. Thank you to all of the teachers out there for dedicating their lives to teaching, shaping the minds of, and helping the next generation.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a teacher. It was the first job I remember ever wanting to have. I don’t remember how long that lasted—probably not more than a few years—but that made it so I valued the profession from a young age. However, I can’t say that meant I’ve respected the occupation since then, too. I was a smart kid, but even I don’t think I completely understood the idea of respect when I was five years old.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I came to truly respect and appreciate teachers and what they do. Part of that has to do with being older, smarter, and more wary about the amount of work teachers do in and out of the classroom. But the biggest reason for this is my high school English teacher Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark was my teacher for my honors English class sophomore year. When I went to his class on the first day of the school year, one of the first things I noticed was the Scottie Pippen poster he had taped up on one of his classroom walls—among other pictures of NBA players. As someone who was born a Chicago Bulls fan and whose first basketball jersey was a hand-me-down red Champion-branded Scottie Pippen Bulls jersey, I was ecstatic about seeing such a sight. How could any teacher be cooler than one who’s a Bulls/NBA fan?
At that moment, I had already decided he was my favorite teacher for that school year. I know that’s not how one should decide such a thing, but that’s how I felt.
He really was—and still is—a great teacher, though, and the fact he helped change the idea of what English classes could be for me was proof of that.
For a long time, English was a subject I felt I wasn’t truly learning in. Rather, I felt it was simply a subject in which you read and wrote a lot, and that’s it. It’s not that I disliked English either. I didn’t mind the subject matter and knew it was important, but English classes felt very insignificant. Such ideas may seem odd coming from someone who now loves to write and wants to do it for a living, but that was my reality then.
Looking back, I figure I felt that way because, until high school, that’s all English classes really were for me. English didn’t seem like it could be so advanced until high school. So when I was in Mr. Clark’s class and felt as though I was actually learning, English class didn’t seem so inconsequential anymore.
Suddenly, English wasn’t just a language. Suddenly, English wasn’t just about reading, writing, grammar, and learning what words meant. Suddenly, English was about reading more complex writing and thinking critically of it. The critical analysis was something I had done a bit in my honors English class freshman year, but I wouldn’t completely understand such ideas until Mr. Clark’s class, and it was because of how well he taught.
Interestingly enough, how good of a job he did as a teacher is just one small part of why I appreciate him, and it’s not the most important reason. Because it’s one thing to be a good teacher, but it’s another thing to be a great teacher. Good teachers know how to effectively teach their students so they do well in class. Great teachers do that and more; they encourage their students to be the best versions of themselves so that success isn’t limited to their own class. And that’s exactly what Mr. Clark did.
During the last two years of high school, when I was no longer in Mr Clark’s class, I often stopped by his classroom to talk mostly about basketball but also to talk about my AP English classes and to get help with my assignments/papers if I needed it. When it came time to apply for college and scholarships, he helped me with the essays and wrote me letters of recommendation.
Despite having his own classes and other responsibilities, he helped me every single time I asked for help or a recommendation letter—even while I was away at college. Considering I was no longer his student, Mr. Clark had no obligation to help me. But he did, because he wanted me to succeed with whatever I would do.
Toward the end of my junior year of high school, I got my first writing gig as a staff writer and social media reporter for FanSided’s Chicago Bulls site Pippen Ain’t Easy. Mr. Clark was the first person, after my twin sister, I told about the position. He was happy and excited for me and supported my pursuit of a sports writing career.
From there, per his request, I’d email him all the articles I’d write, and he’d give me feedback so I could continue improving. He’d push me to challenge myself and further develop my voice because it’d make me better. This went far past my time at Pippen Ain’t Easy, too. This included my days in college as a sports writer for The Daily Illini and my gigs elsewhere. This includes the present time, too.
The fact he continually asks me to send him my writing means the world to me, because I know that his feedback helped me become a better writer. But even more than that, having his support reassures me of my potential. And, as if being a writer isn’t discouraging enough, I am someone who’s easily discouraged, so it’s important for me to know I have support. It’s important for me to know that there are people who believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself, because, sometimes, that’s the only thing keeps me going.
Eight years have passed since I was in Mr. Clark’s honors English class, and he remains my favorite teacher. And considering my formal education has been over for a year (sorry, Mr. Clark, but I’m still not going to go to grad school), he will remain my all-time favorite teacher. But now, it has nothing to do with the fact he’s a basketball fan—that’s just a plus. It has everything to do with the way he goes about his profession: how he sees it as an art, how he truly dedicates himself to it, and how he wants his students to be the best people they can be.
For all that, I have gained a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for not just Mr. Clark but for teachers everywhere. Because if he can affect my life the way he has, then I know there’s a countless amount of teachers who have done, are doing, and will do the same thing for other students.
Image via Getty Images.