Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family Broadcast

How My Teacher Made a Difference

How My Teacher Made a Difference

Focus on the Family listeners pay tribute to their favorite teachers–those who impacted their lives and helped shape who they are today. As the new school year begins, we will honor teachers and help them keep the long-term perspective in mind.
Original Air Date: September 1, 2014

Jim Daly: Who comes to mind when you think of your favorite teacher? Uh, what made them so special?

Woman #1: She helped bring me out of my shell. She helped me discover what a great artist I was.

Man #1: She taught me about being kind to others, about loving, uh, one another.

Woman #2: Because of her inspiration in my seventh-grade year, I stayed playing basketball all through high school and into college.

Woman #3: He just encouraged me to go ahead, I could do it, and I will never, ever forget him for that. And I am so grateful.

Man #2: Mrs. Brenda Coker was my, uh, typing teacher when I was a sophomore. And when I got my first job writing, I always felt like it wasn’t just my hands that were on that typewriter, that it was also Brenda’s.

Woman #4: It just wasn’t a job to her. We were like a family.

Child: She’s really made an impact in my life. I really miss her.

John Fuller: Hmm. Well, teachers have such a unique place in our hearts, don’t they? Uh, this is Focus on the Family with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, it’s back-to-school season. So we want to honor the teachers that pour into our kids each and every day. And to do that, we’re turning the microphones over to you. Uh, we asked you to call us with a comment about a teacher that truly made a long-lasting impact in your life.

John: And so many people responded with heartwarming stories and, uh, with reflections about, um, having good school experiences. And what you’re going to hear are former students reflecting on the life-long influence of their teachers.

Jim: Sadly, I don’t think many teachers really know the effect they can have. Ah, I did that. I went back to my high school, you know, probably 15 years ago. So, uh, there were a couple of teachers still there.

John: Still there?

Jim: Mr. Miller was still teaching biology.

John: Ah. (laughs)

Jim: And I just went around and thanked them. And they said, “You know what? We rarely have somebody come back to talk to us.”

John: Oh, wow.

Jim: That’s kind of sad.

John: Hmm.

Jim: But I meant it. I mean, they took this scruffy kid and they … They made something out of me. (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Jim: But it was just so awesome to see that give and take. And it’s important to keep that long-range goal in mind when you’re dealing with young people. I’m sure I …. I also, like you, caused a lot of frustration with teachers from time to time. Like in Mr. Miller’s class-

John: (laughs)

Jim: … when I used to put the crawdads we were operating on in the girl’s hoodies.

John: Oh! (laughs)

Jim: (laughs) I did that. I confess.

John: Daly!

Jim: And right when the bell rang-

John: (laughs)

Jim: … those hoods went up, and those crawdads landed in their beautiful hair, to which I laughed and got in trouble.

John: Well, you were emblematic-

Jim: (laughs)

John: … of the kind of students that every teacher just, uh, has to push on through. But yeah-

Jim: I thought you were going to say, “Enjoys so much.”

John: … (laughs) Well, some probably do.

Jim: (laughs)

John: Well, we’re gonna turn the corner and, uh, hear from listeners who said that they had, uh, really an incredible exchange with their teachers. And, uh, let’s go ahead and hear from Sue Murphy from Ohio, as she shared what happened when she moved to a new school.

Sue: My first day in English class, Mrs. Stanley walked in on stylish wedge heels. She was a tiny little thing, but she had a commanding presence, and the room came to attention. I knew that she was going to challenge me. I made a hundred on the very first test I took in her class. As she passed out the tests and put mine down on my desk, she said, “Hmm, I’ll have to make it a little harder next time.” She challenged me in so many ways because she loved the English language, and she loved literature. And she instilled that in me. And I just … I remember you every, single day. Thank you. Thank you for investing in my life. You have made a difference.

Sierra: I lived in New Jersey, and I had a art teacher, Mr. Bates. And I had always loved to draw as a child. Whenever I was stressed, whenever things were really tough in my home, I would use art as a way of escaping. I was able to get confidence because he kept pushing. Of course, you know, we bumped heads because I was refusing to believe that there was anything really worthwhile. And he brought out my creativity to help me to nurture the natural gifts that God had given me. Um, and I’ll forever be grateful to Mr. Bates for being persistent in seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.

Mary: I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was a fifth-grade student at that time. And I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to Mr. Fitzgerald, who opened the world to me. At the end of each week, he would let each student pick a book from his filled metal cabinet, that we could take home to read. Upon receiving the returned books, he would check them over by flipping the pages. Somehow, he could confirm whether the book had indeed been read. And that particular book, he would then give for keeps to the student who had read it. I collected a treasure trove of books that way. And having come from a poor family, owning no books of our own, Mr. Fitzgerald started me on my way through a love of reading and learning.

Beth: I had spent the first three years going to a public school with classes of over 40. And I hadn’t learned to read. I had fooled all of my teachers. And in fact, in the end of second grade, I was placed in the highest reading group because I would position myself around the reading circle so that it always ended with me. And by then, I had memorized whatever it was that we were reading. Well, my mom discovered that in the summer, and she placed me in the local Christian school. And, um, that year absolutely changed my life. I was put in a class… my teacher’s name was Janice Fletten. And, um, every day after lunch, she would take me and another girl, and she would teach us phonics. And within nine weeks, I was reading. This lady changed my life. Today, I’m a teacher. I teach, uh, non-English speakers English.

Pedro: I remember vividly when I came to this country, United States. I’m originally from, uh, Nicaragua. And I remember this teacher. Her name was, uh, Mrs. Cox. She was my English teacher. I didn’t know how to speak any English, and I’m still learning. But I remember that she had the gift from God basically to teach us how to learn a new language. And I just want to say thank you for her patience, thank you for all the time that she invested in my life and the life of all the students, that we came from different countries. You know, it was … I was only 15, I remember. But, um, she had the patience and the time to do it. And I just want to thank her today in this special occasion.

Jeff: Well, I was a young man in grade school, and I was having trouble with math. And we were doing fractions. I was going to a Catholic school at that time. And there was one nun that was teaching me. She knew I was really struggling in the class, so she sent me to the corner store for a Hershey bar. And it had to be plain, no peanuts, and don’t break it. And so I went back to school, and we started learning fractions with the Hershey bar. If you remember, the Hershey bar was a long bar of chocolate, split down the middle into, I think, 10 squares. And she opened up a door in my mind that was just incredible to see fractions with that Hershey bar. And she got me over the hill. And then we prayed a little prayer. And it was awesome. It was just awesome, what she had done. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.

John: Hmm. A Hershey bar, a chocolate bar formed a lifelong memory for Jeff Ogden of North Dakota. And he’s just one of many listeners who called into Focus on the Family last spring with a remark, uh, a remembrance of how his teacher made a difference in his life.

Jim: It’s amazing, John. I love the idea that chocolate, again, came to the rescue.

John: It speaks. (laughs)

Jim: (laughs) Maybe Hershey’s should just send chocolate bars to all math teachers.

John: I’m sure that that would make a lot of difference.

Jim: (laughs) Hey, you know, it is gratifying to hear teachers who don’t just see their role in the classroom as a paycheck. You can get into that rut. I mean, all of us can, no matter what our vocation. But teachers have invested in students certainly beyond just the eight-to-five thing.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: They … The good ones, they really do, uh, go beyond the call of duty. And that seems to be the case, uh, for this next group of callers. Here’s Cheryl from Mission Viejo, California.

Cheryl: Well, I’d like to thank Mr. Bonaccor, my ninth-grade algebra teacher, and let him know that I’ve always remembered him for his encouragement and support. He was also our Junior Varsity basketball coach. And when he saw that I just wasn’t getting the concepts of algebra and that it was affecting my high grade point average, he invited me to be the basketball team’s scorekeeper, so that he could have more time to help me. He would tutor me on the bus as we traveled to and from basketball games. And he helped me get my grade point average from a D to a B-minus. He not only saved my GPA, but my time on the team also gave me a real love for basketball that I still share with my husband today. Thank you, Mr. Bonaccor, for not giving up on me and for taking me under your wing. You helped a very insecure 14-year-old girl feel she mattered to someone.

Steve: My wife, Lois Wood, is a school teacher, and she’s gone way above and beyond anything teachers would do. In 1988, we had one of her students come to live with us, and she helped him get through a year. And she was pregnant with our first child. It wasn’t the last time. She had a first-grade student one time that found out he and his brother were in foster care and gonna get separated. And they wound up living with us. Then we’ve had three other of her students live with us throughout the years. And one of them calls us Mom and Dad now, and is a police officer in Greenville, South Carolina. So to my wife, Lois, you are the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. In spite of a learning disability, you’ve risen above and beyond, and you love what you do. And you truly care, from your heart, about your kids. I love you, Sweetheart.

Jim: Ah, sometimes teachers notice the pain in a child’s life. That certainly happened for me with, uh, a handful of great teachers. And you know what? Those teachers do what they can to help.

Veronica: Being overweight and being in Phoenix, Arizona, where being biracial or a Black in the neighborhood where I was, was definitely not welcome. But he … His name was Mr. Richards, and I was at Machan School, took the time to really help me. Being a victim of human trafficking and being, um, out on the street at such a young age was very difficult. But he took the time to help me overcome these things. And, um, I ended up losing like 25 pounds. And I walked the stage and graduated. And, uh, I now work with kids. And I help youth, um, who have endured or are going through some of the stuff that I went through as a child. So if I could thank anybody, I would thank him because he took the time to work with me, to help me graduate.

Randall: My parents were going through a divorce. It was pretty acrimonious. Um, I came in the second quarter at Martin Elementary School. And I brought a F with me in, uh, geography. But Ms. Jenny Vaughn, about the third week in school, called me forward. And she pointed to the F, and she said, “Tell me about this.” My lip started to tremble. I was afraid I’d be in trouble, or that she would change her opinion of me, which had been very positive those first three weeks.

And, um, I told her about it, you know, north from south, left, and right. And back then, nobody knew about ADHD. But she looked at me, um, put her hand right on top of my little hand, and just shook, and said, “I think everybody deserves another chance. Let’s see what you can do these next six weeks.” Um, and I earned a C. Uh, and that always changed my life, just from the fact that I realized people do deserve a second chance. We don’t know what people are going through. And she reached out with kindness and love, and I am finishing my 15th year as a middle school teacher. And I deeply care for every child I teach.

John: Hmm. Well, everybody deserves a second chance. And you just don’t always know what’s going on in the homes of the children in the classroom. And, uh, I appreciate that expression of grace.

This is Focus on the Family. And we’re preparing for a new school year. We’re hearing about how teachers have made a lifelong impact on the lives of their students. I’m John Fuller. And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim: Uh, John, these are great stories of how educators have invested into their students. And what I’m hearing in these comments is that children learn best when they feel like someone cares about them.

John: Mm-hm

Jim: You know what? That’s true in homes, too. Children do best when they feel secure and loved. It all comes down to relationship. And relationships are the key to learning, just like in every other aspect life. Uh, children are more interested in giving you their best when they know, uh, you’re looking for their best.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And that might mean challenging students to try harder, as James Garing and others discovered.

James: I was a teenager in high school, and I had absolutely no real direction in my life, and no reason or willingness to excel, or to do any better than the bare minimum. I had two teachers: Mrs. Ruth Biers, who was my social studies teacher, and Mrs. Gail Hacker, who was my English teacher. Neither one of them would accept any less than excellence from me. They demanded that I strive. They demanded that I perform. And they demanded more from me than I was willing to give. And they got it. They taught me that people are willing to give what you expect from them. And I’ve learned that love is also the factor, the main factor, that makes other people willing to give more than what they’re believe that they’re capable of.

Dawn: I was a senior in high school. Coach Latham had asked me to run the quarter. Now, I was typically used to running the hundred and the two-hundred. So when he asked me to go the full distance, all the way around the track, let’s just say I was not particularly excited. But, uh, honoring him, I trained for it, and then the first event happened. And as I shot out of the blocks, came around the curve, and was looking toward the finish line, I felt really confident about how I was running. And I was so excited because I knew I was about to come in second, which I did. And after the race was over, I ran over to Coach Latham, so excited, and just waiting to hear his response. And he just looked at me and said, “In my eyes, you didn’t even run the race.” And then he went on to explain that he could tell, by the way that I was running, that I had held back from running and finishing first place and beating one of my teammates.

And he taught me two of the most valuable lessons. He said, “The reason why I felt like you didn’t run the race was number one, you cheated yourself out of challenging yourself to be your very best. And number two, you cheated the person who ran and came in first out of an opportunity to be pushed to be their very best.” He said, “When you live your life, you can’t come in second just because you think someone’s feelings are gonna be hurt. You have to perform with the God-given gifts you’ve been given.” And that’s what he was trying to teach me to do, in life and in faith. So thanks, Coach Latham. I know that you’re in glory now, but I appreciate you and what you taught me on that one, particular afternoon.

Joe: My name is Joe Davidson. I’m 60 years old. I had a second-grade teacher, Ms. Susan Cohen. I had failed the first grade and repeated it. My self-esteem was in the garbage can, but I remember we started that year in the second grade, and her name was Su-, Ms. Susan Cohen. And that lady made all the … She changed my life. She built my self-esteem back up, and I’ll never forget her. She was … She got married that year. She was only there that one year. And I thank the Lord for Ms. Susan Cohen.

Teresa: I would like to honor the memory of my beloved teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Wilson. When I was in the second grade, during science class, I had asked a question. And a third-grade girl in the combination class began to laugh loudly. Mrs. Wilson said to her, “Okay. Since you know the answer, you tell the class.” The girl embarrassingly admitted to not knowing the answer. And taking a teachable moment, and applying both kindness and wisdom, I will never forget what Mrs. Wilson said, “Questions are not to be laughed at, but learned from.” And then she proceeded to discuss the answer. Wow. That was so profound to me that I still use that today in teaching children how to respect and learn from others, and not make fun of them.

Maryann: I was born in Zimbabwe, in the capital city, Salisbury. In my third-grade class, my teacher was a wonderful woman called Mrs. Abrahams. An assignment that we had one day was what we were going to be when we went to college. And I wrote an essay, and I said that I was going to be a nurse and a missionary. Well, I got away from the Lord at age 17. The Lord brought me to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1977. And I came back to Christ miraculously. I know that her prayers and her belief in me had led me, first of all, to become an RN in England. And then God brought me all the way across to America to become a missionary and a nurse in a very busy burn unit, where I got to witness to patients, staff, relatives. It was with great joy that I was able to write to my teacher, Mrs. Abrahams, in Zimbabwe, because she told me she would keep that essay of mine until God brought it about to pass. It was an amazing experience, and I do thank God for my teacher, Mrs. Abrahams.

Jim: Well, around the world, teachers do make a difference. And, uh, you may have noticed several callers to Focus on the Family, on this special tribute to teachers, mention that they’re in education today because of the powerful influence of a teacher in their life.

John: Hmm.

Jim: And as we hear these final few calls, I want to keep this in mind. This goes for all of us, whether you’re an official teacher or not, we all teach.

John: Hmm.

Jim: Uh, when you keep Christ at the center of what you do, it’s obvious to your students and people around you. It will be palpable. And it makes an eternal difference. And here’s Wendy from North Carolina, making that point.

Wendy: My kindergarten teacher, my very first teacher that I ever had, her name was Ms. Welda Bishop. And, um, she was just a wonderful, experienced teacher. And, um, taking … We were in a Christian school, and just a constant example of Jesus to us. Um, one of the things that she used to say was, “If you don’t know what to do, do right.” And I’ve always thought about that through my life. I’m 35 now. And I think about, um, when I make a choice, if I don’t know what to do, what’s the right thing to do? That’s just a real easy way to eliminate a lot of bad possibilities in your life.

And another thing that was important was that she led me to Jesus. I’d had a really good foundation at home. I knew that I loved Jesus, but she brought a bunch of five-year-olds, um, to the Lord one day in class. And, and I just cherish that, that I had that so early in my life, and that I can walk my life with Jesus, even as a child. And I don’t know that I would have come to him as quickly if Ms. Bishop hadn’t been my teacher. She was just a jewel and has made a impact on my entire life.

Gregory: My teacher was a man named William Tell. He was a history teacher at La Sierra High School in Riverside, California. Um, he had mentioned in passing, through one of his history lessons, that he was a former pastor. When I was 16, I gave my life to Christ and didn’t really know anybody to talk to, so I came and talked to him at lunch. And turned out, he was thinking about getting back into ministry. And he started discipling me. Uh, from there, he kind of took me under his wing. I came from a broken home, so I didn’t have, really, a dad around. And since my dad’s not around, he’s the one I send a Father’s Day card to every year. He’s been more than a teacher. He’s been a wonderful friend and the closest thing I have to a dad.

James: When I was in high school, 11th and 12th grade, I had joined concert choir with Mrs. Staffinson. And it was during the 12th-grade year that the school district told Mrs. Staffinson she could not have a Christmas concert. They-they wanted to insist on it being called a Winter concert. And she said, “Well then, we will not have a concert if I cannot call it Christmas concert. This is honoring Christ.” And thankfully, to Mrs. Staffinson’s faith in Christ, and her unwillingness to back down to the authorities, I now have a, um, desire to continue my faith in Christ, regardless the circumstances. No matter what life brings to me. Mrs. Staffinson has shown me that I can proclaim the name of Christ wherever I go.

Olive: I had been out of school for about a week with measles or mumps. And one day, while I was home, the mailman brought a box of hand-me-down clothes from my rich cousins in California. In the box was a tan skirt, vest, and blouse to match. I wore that my first day back to school. And as Ms. Sampson was walking by my desk, she leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Your outfit is so pretty.” I’m 79 years old now, but I can still hear her saying that. Oh, the influence of a kind and, I believe, Christian teacher, what it can have upon our lives.

John: Hmm. Well, we’ve had a collection of stories about the lasting impact that teachers can have on our lives. Uh, what a special episode we’ve had today, of Focus on the Family. And such touching stories. I do hope that some teachers have really picked up on how important they are in the lives of students, both, uh, right there in the classroom, and then well beyond it. For years and years.

Jim: Well, that’s a 79-year-old woman remembering something a teacher said to her when she was a little girl. So it proves the point.

John: Hmm.

Jim: If I get to 79, I think I, too, would tell great stories about wonderful teachers in my life. And our hats go off to those teachers today. As we get back into the school routine, I hope all of us remember how we can make an impact on others, especially the next generation. It matters. It’s worthy of our time as Christians to invest in them. And I think the Lord expects us to. We appreciate you for choosing, uh, that teaching profession, to every teacher listening. And we want to stand alongside you. It is a tough career. But you are doing, perhaps, the most important thing anybody could do, and that’s teach the next generation. If you need encouragement, or you would like a resource to help you stay in the groove and stay motivated, uh, contact us. Let us provide that. We have a wonderful DVD called “Molder of Dreams.” You remember this, John?

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Guy Doud, who won Teacher of the Year many years ago. But his message is timeless and so good, which really points to, uh, encouraging those kids around you and the good you can do for them.

John: Yeah. Guy shared so wonderfully in that DVD about his experiences in the classroom. And his heart was with those students. It was for those students, as is the case for many of the teachers we heard about today.

Jim: Yeah. I remember being in the audience. And man, I was in tears, as was Jean, with the message that Guy brought. It’s powerful. It still is relevant. And you will benefit from it. So make a donation of any amount. Be part of the ministry, and we’ll send you that DVD as our way of saying thank you for supporting the ministry at Focus on the Family.

John: Yeah. Donate today and get your copy of that DVD, “Molder of Dreams.” And, um, also, we’re gonna have a link at the website about a fantastic podcast we have, called Thriving Student, which is full of great, practical information to use as you get going here, in this new school year. So stop by the website to learn more. That’s Or call us. 800, the letter A, and the word Family. Join us again tomorrow. We’ll hear from Ted Cunningham about rediscovering the joy in your marriage.


Ted: In those moments where my expectations are not met, number one, I have to own them. Number two, I have to ask myself the question, “If I don’t get my way, what do I lose?”

End of Preview

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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