Look for the Teachers

Faith SandlerImpact, Words of Faith

Some of the teachers who’ve had an impact on me, clockwise from upper left: Kristine Buls of the Baltimore Public Schools and Richard Sandler (Kristine’s favorite teacher and my father and teaching hero); Dr. Charles Vert Willie of Harvard Graduate School of Education; Dr. Yasuyuki Owada on his retirement from Johnston College (and on the occasion of me presenting him as candidate for sainthood); Don Clausen, my uncle, who retired as a high school administrator from Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools (and then served three years rebuilding and re-opening a school in El Salvador after a devastating earthquake); Michael Holohan who retired in 2020 after teaching studio art at the elementary level (and who was the parent providing our children invaluable learning experiences in their early years at home); and the dynamic advocacy duo of Karina Arango and Karissa Anderson who taught me the importance of authenticity and organizing (and how to get out of the way).

It is so hard to feel connected in a world like this. Recent weeks have found me worrying about the loss of belonging among our board, staff, and community. What has caused most concern for me, though, is evidence that students are disconnected from their own learning and from the hope that higher education will be an agent of change. Many have turned off their cameras and muted their mics (literally and figuratively), and that can’t be good.

I remember learning that there’s one question that is almost guaranteed to elicit tears of gratitude if you ask any group of people to respond. So last week, at our (virtual) staff meeting I asked each person to answer this prompt:

Tell us the name of a teacher who had an impact on you.
What grade level or stage in life were you, and what impact did they have?”

Here is what they said.

More than Subject Matter

  • He was my high school jazz teacher, such a gracious person. He taught life lessons, not just music. He might be in his 80’s or 90’s now, and I still visit him to sit and talk.
  • I was a quiet student and didn’t require to be challenged. A professor in an enrichment course I took assigned us to make 75 lifestyle changes. That assignment started me on a journey to being my authentic self.
  • I had a teacher in kindergarten through 5th grade who got me to do all sorts of things I wouldn’t have even tried — like singing or tap dance. We have been friends since. He treats my kids like his grandchildren.


  • She was terrifying, tough, and an old lady (it seemed to me). I learned the toughest teachers were often the best. I also learned to sit in the front row and not fall asleep.
  • My ballet teacher used to yell at me to “get off the floor” and I found it annoying at the time. Now I think she was prompting me to jump higher, to use my potential to see that I can do more.
  • A staff member at a nearby university pushed me to take advantage of all the support and enrichment classes they provided students. She really encouraged me.

Notice and Care

  • My fifth-grade teacher saw that I needed social and emotional support. My family had moved and I was having a hard time with all the change. She knew, and then she helped me adjust.
  • I was from one of the tougher parts of the neighborhood. A counselor at school really encouraged me to go to a summer college prep program at Andover. That summer in Boston taught me so much about the world beyond.
  • I think about a teacher who gave me a chance in a class I when I was really struggling, a psychology class. That teacher called me up and I’m not sure I’d have passed without someone seeing I needed help.
  • My kindergarten teacher was so warm and enthusiastic. She believed in me. I remember that she didn’t make fun of my English. She welcomed me, and she even used to come to my birthday parties.

Passion for Learning

  • She looked like just a mean old lady to me, but she got me into reading. She not only bridged the gap in my skills, but she created in me a real love of reading too.
  • He was a former military man and taught a class called War and Peace. I was an avowed pacifist. I used to get so agitated in that class. He used historical scenarios and gave us decisions to make. I learned the answers were not as simple as I wanted them to be.
  • My English teacher was always giving me extra assignments in a way that seemed like “fun projects”. Later, when I majored in English in college, I realized some of the work was familiar, and that she was preparing me.


Students have suffered tremendously from much more than the novel coronavirus in the last three years.  We have yet to understand or measure the impact on their learning or their very lives. The essential qualities of learning are not ZOOMABLE. Learning happens in community, in relationship. These are not things you go in a room and do by yourself. The impact does not occur without evidence someone cares about you.

To Mr. Nicholson, Mrs. Edgerton, Miss Storm, Dr. Leoni, Mr. Richardson, Mrs. Thompson, Ms. Askew, Mr. Eggers, Miss Williams, Miss Winter, and Mrs. Sherman, WE THANK YOU. To those whose names we can’t recall, don’t think for a minute we forgot what you encouraged us to learn. You saved our learning and perhaps our lives.

To all of us who claim adulthood, it’s time to TEACH. We’ve suffered enough examples of disengaged people, dramatic inequity, and dysfunctional systems stifling good teaching and learning. Our young people are signaling us to stop doom-scrolling and remember the relationships at the heart of learning.

We are being called to “get off the floor”.

– Faith Sandler