In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, MSTA invited the sponsors of our Thank-a-Teacher contest to share about teachers who made a difference in their lives. The following guest post is from Dr. Angie Besendorfer who is Chancellor of WGU Missouri, Missouri’s only nonprofit, fully online, competency-based university. She champions college attainment for working Missourians who wish to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree and leads the college that is preparing more licensed teachers than any university in the nation. Besendorfer spent 23 years in the field of K-12 education in Missouri, including serving as the assistant superintendent of Joplin Schools for eight years, before joining WGU Missouri in 2014. Her background includes implementing innovating and technology-focused learning strategies across the educational spectrum.
Teachers who made a difference – By Dr. Angie Besendorfer
I’ve had a storied love affair with so many of “my teachers.” That includes the fabulous educational experience I had growing up in the small town of Lamar, Missouri, but even more so with the teachers I served beside as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. After many years in education, I have had the distinct pleasure of seeing amazing teachers in action day in and day out. The magic of so many teachers – too many to share – has changed me and made a difference in my life.
Anyone who entered the room of Mrs. Becky Farmer could feel the synergy and connectedness she had with her 26 kindergarteners. She magically managed her classroom almost as if she was a conductor of an orchestra. Each child was celebrated as their very own instrument with his or her own voice and value in the classroom. As the principal, I was able to ensure future teachers also had the opportunity to experience Mrs. Farmer’s excellence as a role model.
Mrs. Susan James was a teacher that I honestly wasn’t so sure about at first; however, today I hold her in the highest regard. She is gifted with skills and talents to not only handle the most challenging student behaviors, but also to reengage those student on a path to ensure they are learning. Her passion for the most difficult population of students began with her love of each individual. She also embraced the family of these students working closely to align consistency at home and school which resulted in dramatic improvements for the students. I dare say that her students’ lives were placed on a different trajectory because Mrs. James held each student to the highest standards and expectations with the grace to make mistakes and start again the next day.
And then there was Mr. Tobin Schultz, who genuinely inspired me. He created a program that changed the culture of a 2,000-student high school by reimaging a student leadership program. Link Crew empowered juniors and seniors of average and above average grades to become leaders for underclassmen and ambassadors in the community. His program changed lives and created a mix among students that created relationships that would have likely never happened. Additionally, the respect and care among students improved. Mr. Schultz’ leadership of the students empowered them to believe in themselves and do things high school students rarely did prior to beginning Link Crew.
Finally, Mrs. McNorton brought a very real, casual and caring approach to her classroom. Students in her room are family to her. I learned from her about equity and the need to challenge our status quo when it comes to race. She embraces all people as equals and is willing to stand for her beliefs even if it means challenging the school staff about current practices that might have bias. Mrs. McNorton walks her talk and is a wonderful role model for her students. She touches them in a way that they are always one of her kids.
These four teachers are only a tiny example of many amazing educators I have witnessed. As a principal and superintendent, I was honored to observe great teaching and learning happening across grades, socioeconomic challenges, various school and class sizes and even varied experience as a teacher. The simple statement that teachers change lives is undoubtedly true, but I contend not just the lives of their own students. I have seen the lives of parent and whole families change because of the actions of a teacher. Entire schools have improved because of one teacher who started something big which often leads to other schools growing as well. Teachers also change the lives of their peers. I have been most blessed to have experienced 100’s of amazing educators dedicated to changing lives.