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How My Teacher Made a Difference

Air Date 09/01/2014

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Some Focus on the Family listeners describe how their lives have been positively impacted by an influential teacher during their childhood.

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Episode Transcript



(Sound of children playing)

Jim: Who comes to mind when you think of your favorite teacher? 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 one another.

Woman #2: Because of her inspiration in my 7th-grade year, I stayed playing basketball all through high school and into college.

Man #2: She really cared about her students and she was a great communicator.

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 #3: Mrs. Brenda Coker was my 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, but it was also Brenda's.

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

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

End of Teaser

Jim: This is "Focus on the Family" and I'm Jim Daly, along with John Fuller and we're turning the microphones today over to you, as it's back-to-school season. And at the end of this past school years a few months ago, we asked you to call us with a comment about a teacher that truly made a long-lasting impact in your life.

John: And ... and we made that invitation, Jim and so many people responded with heartwarming stories and reflections about a good school year and we put those together and have some former students, reflecting about the unbelievable lifelong impact that a teacher has made on their life.

Jim: And it was so sad, John, as so many teachers really don't know the impact that they had. There's little connection often on the back end. It just doesn't happen, so they don't know what investment they made actually in the end and made a difference for a boy or girl, but we're gonna hear it today. And it's important to keep that long-range goal in mind when you're dealin' with young people.

John: Yeah, you're planting--

Jim: I ...

John: --seeds.

Jim: You are. I'm volunteering as a football coach again. I (Chuckling) did it last year; I'm doin' it this year.

John: Goin' to state?

Jim: Yeah, we're going to the end, man.

John: All right.

Jim: But you know what? The most important thing is just being able to pat one of these kids on the helmet or the back and say, "Hey, you're doin' a great job in there." And you can see them light up when you do that. And that's the thing you gotta think of. You're building into the little hearts, confidence, hopefully, a godly perspective when things are down and aren't going quite their way. So, it's a good thing and good teachers are really good people.

John: And we're gonna hear affirmations of that truth, as we listen to folks thinking back 20, 30 years ago to the teacher who made a difference in their life. Let's go ahead and start with Sue Murphy from Ohio, as she shares what happened when she moved to a new school.


Sue: My first day in English class, Mrs. Finley 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 gonna challenge me. I made 100 on the very first test I took in her class. As she passed out the test and put mine down on my desk, she said, " 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 remember you every single day. Thank you. Thank you for investing in my life. You have made a difference.

Sierra: I was in New Jersey and I had a[n] 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 there was anything really worthwhile. And he brought out my creativity and helped me to nurture the natural gifts that God had given me. 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 to 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 that year absolutely changed my life. I was put in this class. My teacher's name was Janice Fletten and 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 non-English speakers, English. And I'd just like to take this opportunity to say thank you Miss Janice Fletten. I don't know where you are, but I hope somehow that you hear this message and you know how much I appreciate you and what you did to change my life.

Pedro: I remember vividly when I came to this country, United States. I'm originally from Nicaragua and I remember this teacher. Her name was 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 she invested in my life and life of all students, that we came from different countries, You know, I was only 15, I remember, but she had the patience and the time to do it. And I just want to thank her today on 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. 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.

Program Note:

John: Hm ... 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 in to Focus on the Family last spring with the remark, a remembrance of how his teacher made a different in his life.

Jim: That's amazing, John. I love the idea of the chocolate, again came to the rescue.

John: It speaks. (Laughter)

Jim: Maybe Hersey should just send chocolate bars to all math teachers.

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

Jim: 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 8 to 5 thing.

John: Uh-hm.

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

End of Program Note

Cheryl: Well, I'd like to thank Mr. Bonicore, 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 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 scorekeeper, so that he could have more time to help me. He would tutor me on the bus as we'd travel 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. Bonicore 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.

Hayley: I was in about 10th grade and I had a D in my science class and my teacher for science was also my softball coach. She was a Christian and even though I was making a D, she noticed I was good at drawing, probably 'cause I was drawing in class. And she paid me during the summer to paint a mural on her wall. And it was the first time I ever earned $100 and she bought the paints and everything and the mural is still there to this day.

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 and live with us and she helped him get through a year. And she was pregnant with our first child. That wasn't the last time. She had a first-grade student one time, [she] 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 'em calls us mom and dad now and is a police officer in Greensville, 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.

Program Note:

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

End of Program Note:

Veronica: Being overweight and being in Phoenix, Arizona where being biracial or black in neighborhood where I was, was definitely not welcome. But his name was Mr. Richards and I was at Mackin School, took the time to really help me. Being a victim of human trafficking and being out on the street at such a young age was very difficult, but he took the time to help me overcome these things. And I ended up losing like 25 pounds, and I walked the stage and graduated and I now work with kids and I help youth 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 time to work with me to help me graduate.

Randall: My parents were going through a divorce. It was pretty acrimonious. I came in the second quarter at Martin Elementary School and I brought a[n] F with me in geography. But Miss 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 lips 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 I told her about it, but she looked at me, put her hand on top of my little hand as it shook and said, "I think everybody deserves another chance. Let's see what you can do these next six weeks." And I earned a C. 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.

Program Note:

John: 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 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: 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. 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 of life. Children are more interested in giving you their best when they know you're lookin' for their best.

John: Uh-hm.

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

End of Program Note

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 Buhrers, who was my social studies teacher, and Mrs. Gail Hacker, who was my English teacher. Neither one of them would accept anything 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 learned that love is also the factor, the main factor that makes other people willing to give more than what they're [sic] 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 100 and the 200, 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 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 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 for 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 No. 1, you cheated yourself out of challenging yourself to be your very best. And No. 2, 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 gift 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. (Emotion) I had a second grade teacher , Miss 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 Miss Susan Cohen. And that lady, she changed my life. She built my self-esteem back up and I'll never forget her. She got married that year. She was only there that one year. And I thank the Lord for Miss Susan Cohen

Teresa: I would like to honor the memory of my beloved teacher, Mrs. Evelynn Wilson. When I was in the second grade, during science class, I had asked a question and a third grade girl in the combinations 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'll 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 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 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 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 a great joy and 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.

Program Note:

Jim: Well, around the world teachers do make a difference and 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. 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. 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.

End of Program Note

Wendy: My Kindergarten teacher, my very first teacher that I ever had, her name was Miss Wilda Bishop. And she was just a wonderful, experienced teacher. 'Cause we were in a Christian school and just a constant example of Jesus to us. 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 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 she led me to Jesus. I had a really good foundation at home. I knew that I loved Jesus, but she brought a bunch of 5-year-olds to the Lord one day in class. 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 Miss Bishop hadn't been my teacher. She is just a jewel and has made an 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. 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 it turned out, he was thinking about getting back into ministry. And he started discipling me. From there, he kinda took me under his wing, I came from 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 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 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. It's honoring Christ.  And thankfully to Mrs. Staffinson's faith in Christ and her unwillingness to back down to the authorities, I now have a desire to continue my faith in Christ regardless of 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 it at my first day back to school and as Mrs. Sampson was walking by my desk, she leaned down and whispered in my ear "You're 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.


Jim: Well, I mean, that's a 79-year-old woman remembering something somebody said to her, a teacher, the powerful words of the teacher--

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: --and what that teacher said to her over 70 years ago, John. That--

John: That's remarkable.

Jim: --proves the point.

John: It does.

Jim: And you know what? Our hats go off to teachers today. And as we get back into the school routine, I mean, my boys are back in full swing--

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: --I hope all of us remember how we can make an impact on others, especially the next generation. It's worthy of our time as Christians to invest obviously. And we appreciate you for choosing that teaching profession and we want to stand alongside you. If you need encouragement or you need a resource to help you stay in the groove and stay motivated, contact us. John, I remember Guy Dowd, the "Molder of Dreams."

John: Yes.

Jim: He won Teacher of the Year many years ago, but his message is timeless and so good. I think we should make that DVD available. And what I'm gonna do, this reminds me to get a couple of those DVDs for my kids' teachers. So, I'm gonna do that myself.

John: Yeah, Guy shares so wonderfully from his experiences in the classroom and you could tell, his heart was with those students, as was the case for so many of the teachers we heard about today.

Jim: It's true and Guy, that inspirational message that he gave to teachers, it's worth it for you to encourage your son or daughter's teacher to get a copy of the DVD. And we'll get it to you. Just call us or write us or go online.

John: And when you make a generous contribution to support our ongoing work here at Focus on the Family to help families thrive, we'll send a copy of Guy Dowd's DVD, Molder of Dreams for you to enjoy or as Jim said, to share with a teacher you know who needs some encouragement. I did share this message with my son. He's a high school teacher and I know that he found it to be a good shot in the arm at the beginning of the school year.

Call 800-232-6459 or you can donate online at or if you'd like to mail a check to us, our address is 8605 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, when we'll hear how one couple is investing in the relationship of new couples and making a big difference in how you can do the same. We'll be back next time with more trusted advice and encouragement to help your family thrive.

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