Great teaching endures in the memories of students

WFS_Homepage-Rotator-GreatTeachers1_5By Kathy Quirk — I recently attended my high school reunion – I won’t say which one, but let’s say it’s in the decades.

One of the trivia games we played was naming those teachers from all those many years ago, when given a quick clue.  It was amazing to me how many of us were able to shout out the names instantly.

My favorite high school teachers were my senior English teacher and my freshman algebra teacher – for totally opposite reasons. Mrs. G., the English teacher, encouraged an existing love of words. She made all of the students keep journals and checked them weekly.  Almost everybody hated doing the journals, but I loved the exercise and still remember the glow I felt when Mrs. G. told me I had a gift.

I was much less enthusiastic about algebra, but Sister Ann Louise somehow pulled me through a class that was extremely challenging for me. When my grade hovered near the failing mark, she stayed after school and gave me extra coaching so that I could master the mysteries of formulas and quadratic equations.

In my work as a writer covering the UW-Milwaukee School of Education, I have the privilege of meeting many teachers like those who made an impact on my life.

Here are just a few of the stories that stick in my mind:

Wansheba, a recent education graduate I interviewed in 2007 for a story on what inspired graduates to go into teaching told me about her 5th grade teacher.  “Ms. J. at Brudick School was the best teacher in the whole world. My father passed away during that year. I had trouble concentrating and she supported me through all of that.” Wansheba ended up repeating 5th grade with the same teacher, but she understood it was because Ms. J. cared enough to make sure she learned. “I wanted to be that kind of teacher,” Wansheba said. “I wanted to work with those children who struggled.”

Another education student, Michael, remembered a teacher who inspired him and an experience that shaped his own approach to teaching. “Mr. N. was my third grade teacher in Brown Deer. He was just such an enthusiastic guy that I remember thinking I wanted to be like him.” However, Michael added later in his story, “I needed help in reading and I was pulled out of class and sent to another room with another teacher. I hated it. I told myself, “I’m not going to allow another student to feel that way.’” Now he tells his own students, “I was like you, and you can get to where I am now.”

Then there was Mr. S., a UWM alum teaching in an under-funded MPS school. When I interviewed him in 2009, he was busy raising money to get much-needed supplies for his classroom through The then-new idea of crowdsourcing allowed teachers to find funding for classroom needs through the contributions of many small donors. Mr. S. was looking for money to replace the tattered 1965 reader dictionaries in his first-grade classroom. Through Donors Choose, he was quickly able to raise the $142 he needed, and went on to share his fund-raising secrets with other teachers. It also provided a mini-lesson for his class: “When new things arrive for the classroom, I tell the students that some kind people on the Internet are helping us, and use that as a lesson, too.”

Every time I go to interview teachers like these in their classrooms, I continue to be impressed by their enthusiasm and the energy they bring to their work. Some things don’t change, even after all these decades.


Kathy Quirk is a senior university relations specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  She works for both the University Relations and Media Services department and the School of Education’s Communication department.  Before coming to UWM 11 years ago, she worked as a newspaper reporter, a corporate communications manager, and an agricultural editor/writer. Education is among the beats she covers at the university and she has a few personal insights on the profession through family members.  Currently, two sisters, a brother, niece, nephew, and brother-in-law are teachers. Her mother-in-law is a retired teacher and two sisters-in-law are school psychologists.

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