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How My Teachers Changed My Life

Updated on September 22, 2020
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Photo of me between two friends at the age of 11.
Photo of me between two friends at the age of 11. | Source

Teachers Influence Lives

My name is Denise McGill and I am an artist and illustrator. I work on children's magazines and children's 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.

Give me back my doll.... Little sisters! Humph.
Give me back my doll.... Little sisters! Humph. | Source

5th Grade

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.

The 5th Grade

5th grade photo of me.
5th grade photo of me. | Source

Did you have a teacher that impacted your life in a significant way?

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Cat-eye glasses.. the worst!
Cat-eye glasses.. the worst! | Source

A Love Of Literature

It was my 8th grade English teacher (let's call her Mrs. Bunting) that made the biggest impact on my life. On 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 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.

The Bird-Mobile

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.

Painting Time

Group drawing.  What's wrong with this picture?
Group drawing. What's wrong with this picture? | Source


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. The 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?

No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius.

— Pavlova
Graduation from Grammar School
Graduation from Grammar School | Source

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.”

Self-portrait using stippling.
Self-portrait using stippling. | Source

We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.

— Winston Churchill

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