How My Teachers Changed My Life
Teachers change and influence the lives of countless children everywhere.
My name is Denise McGill and I am an artist and illustrator. I work on childrens magazines and childrens books, along with other illustration venues. I love art. I've loved it ever since I began pursuing it in earnest. I am an artist today because of my eighth grade English teacher. This is some of my story. But more than that, it is the story of great educators. The best educators don't just tell or explain, but they encourage and inspire. Teachers hold the future in their hands, for good or for ill, what they say and how they act sets the tone for the future lives of countless children. It is a sacred trust.
The names of the teachers I mention below have been changed to save embarrassment and promote confidentiality.
The first grade, the beginning of it all.
Where I first entered the school system in rural Indiana, there were no kindergarten classes. So my Mom spent time with me teaching me the alphabet and number systems, plus she taught me to write my name along with a few words. I felt very confident entering the first grade. The big problem was that our little rural school had combined the first and second grade into one classroom. So I could hear not only the assignments for the first graders (me) but also the assignments for second graders. My teacher assumed that we first graders knew very little and spent a lot of time, too much time in my estimation, just covering the alphabet, which I already knew. So after filling my paper with A’s and B’s, I felt like I could do the assignment I just heard her giving to the second graders. Now my big error was to go to the front of the room and interrupt the teacher with the question, “I finished this can I do what you gave the second graders?” It may have gone better for me if I had just tried to do it and see where I got. Instead she raised her voice and ordered me back to my seat.
The education I got that day was not to try to excel and not to interrupt the teacher.
The 5th grade, pivotal time.
By the time I reached the 5th grade, I had learned many things, like not to speak unless spoken to, not to raise my hand (even if I knew the answer) or I may be called upon to speak aloud. I was a very shy child and became more shy with each passing year. In this particular year, my teacher (lets call her Mrs. Jackson) had assigned for the class to study and write our own poetry. We each, in turn, had to read our poems aloud (a dreadful experience for me). Mrs. Jackson was very pleased with the outcome of the assignment and decided that it would be a great idea if we made a book of poetry and printed them so that each student could take home a copy. She divided the classroom up into sections. One section was running the mimeo machines (I know I'm dating myself there) and compiling and stapling; one section with the best handwriting was neatly printing the poems; one section of "artists" was making illustrations to accompany the poetry. When I had finished neatly printing the poems given to me, I looked over at the artist's section. They were laughing and seemed to be having fun. So I quietly got up and ambled over to look over their shoulders and see what they were doing. That's when Mrs. Jackson found me, apparently wandering aimlessly about the room, and she raised her voice loud enough for everyone to hear her order me back to my seat. She told me to "leave the art to the artists!" I was humiliated and embarrassed. Red-faced and with my head down, I rushed back to my seat. She had to know something I didn't know. She must know that I was not an artist. She's a teacher, right? So I took it as a sign that I would not go into that field as a career.
Great Teachers in your past - Influencers or discouragers
Did you have a teacher that impacted your life in a significant way?
Middle School P.E. is a nightmare.
By Middle School, I didn't know what I would be, but I did have a few classes that were favorites. I loved science and English. In the years before there was a gymnasium built at the Middle School out in my rural home, we used a mobile home that had been parked at the end of the playground, for showers after P.E. The mobile home had a wall installed to keep the boy's side and the girl's side separate (but we girls could always hear them over there). It was a little cramped but we made it work. One day, one of the mean girls brought a camera into the showers. She made quite a stir, as everyone was grabbing towels and covering up. She thought she was so funny. Then she noticed me. I was quietly doing my best to ignore her, when she grabbed my skimpy little towel away from me. The only thing I could think of to do as she snapped pictures was to turn my back to her. She pointed and yelled, "Look! She has a dimple in her butt!" Sure enough, I have a dimple in my cheek. So what. Everyone laughed and she snapped several pictures. She said it was priceless and the pictures would be in the yearbook.
Now I have to ask, where were the teachers when you needed one? I spent the whole year in agony, expecting that my behind would be featured in the yearbook. Later I found out that there was no film in the camera, but still it was agony. If I had been a little less self-assured, I may have been one more of the statistical girls who killed herself over teenage depression. Or I could have gotten a gun and shot up the place. But I didn't. I quietly waited for the yearbook to come out and quickly scanned the pages praying that my caboose would not be there. It wasn't.
A love of literature
It was my 8th grade English teacher (lets call her Mrs. Bunting) that made the biggest impact on my life. The first day of class, this little thin lady entered the room and started a thirty-minute lecture on how we were all young adults and she insisted we conduct ourselves in that manner. She explained her grading system, her expectations and requirements. Then she reached into a drawer and pulled out a book, sat down and began reading to us. I remember thinking, “whaaaat”. She just said we were young adults and she’s reading to us like we were kids. Did she know my mom stopped reading to me when I was 7? But the book she chose was interesting, and I began to love the reading times. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone seemed to hate to have her reach for the bookmark, which meant she was stopping. It was that reading time that instilled a love for literature that is still with me today. As a matter of fact, remembering Mrs. Bunting, I read to my children all the way through high school. It didn’t matter that they could read themselves. It was more about the time together and the way it made books come to life to hear them out loud. My children still talk about our reading times together.
I had a bit of a vision problem that made reading a chore for me so without the year Mrs. Bunting read to us I may not have fallen in love with books. But that’s not the only thing she gave me.
I loved seeing Mrs. Bunting drive by my home on the way to the school. My sisters and I called her little blue Honda car the "bird mobile" partly because it was so small and she was so small. Also, we had never seen one before. Those were the days of the big luxury and mid-size cars as the norm. Hers was the first Honda we had ever laid eyes on.
At the end of each week, Mrs. Bunting would have us put away our English books and pull out watercolor paper and paint. Mrs. Bunting probably purchased the paper and paint herself, as the poor rural school probably did not have an art budget. It was my favorite time; Friday afternoon, time to paint. Painting was a special time for me; I could be myself there, in the “art zone” where beautiful things and colors reside. In that place there is only peace and sparkling beauty. A wonderful place. Mrs. Bunting gave no instruction, no art rules or directions. We just painted whatever we wanted.
Each week a few of the best pieces were displayed on the bulletin board. Naturally there wasn’t room for 34 pieces, so some got up and some did not. Everyone had a piece displayed at least once during the year. The fact that my pieces were displayed a couple of times during the year didn’t really excite me much. She was being nice and diplomatic, right? She’s a teacher. That’s what they do. After all, didn’t Mrs. Jackson already say I wasn’t an artist?
Drawing done by me with several "Find what doesn't belong" elements.
No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius.— Pavlova
Middle school graduation
When graduation came, Mrs. Bunting pulled my mother to one side and told her that I should be sure to take some art classes in high school, because I had real talent. When my mother told me what she had said, I was floored. Mrs. Bunting only told ME that I had really poor spelling skills. It was because of her that I did take art in high school and have been in love with it ever since.
There is this pedestal in my heart with her mounted on top. She has my undying gratitude. She helped shape my future and my career. Her encouragement counteracted the sentence that had been pronounced on me years earlier. I am an artist because of her. Now I feel very badly for having called her “bird-legs Bunting.”
Another coloring book
There is this pedestal in my heart with her mounted on top. She has my undying gratitude. She helped shape my future and my career. Her encouragement counteracted the sentence that had been pronounced on me years earlier. I am an artist because of her. Now I feel very badly for having called her “bird-legs Bunting.” Photo is my self-portrait done at the age of 18 in stippling, or in layman's terms, dots.
We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.— Winston Churchill