In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day on May 8, we share inspiring narratives about extraordinary teachers, acknowledging their remarkable experiences as educators and celebrating their tireless dedication to students.
The Miracle Worker
The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, is based both on Helen Keller’s autobiography and the letters written by Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan. An extraordinary educator, Sullivan was able to connect with her young deaf and blind student in incredible ways. Sullivan taught Keller to better communicate despite Keller’s overwhelming disabilities, showing her the meaning of language by signing into her hand. This work took patience and a unique sensibility that others in Keller’s life lacked. The result was an incredible breakthrough that led to an enduring bond between teacher and student. Sullivan and Keller became lifelong companions and friends who would both find much success in literary and academic fields.
Dead Poets Society
Dead Poets Society is a fictional story about a group of high school boys at a wealthy private school and the English teacher, John Keating, who changes their lives. Keating challenges both the school’s conservative curriculum and his students’ expectations by exposing them to classic works of literature, showing them how literature applies to their own lives. He encourages them to be free thinkers and focus on their creative instincts rather than the regimented and traditional methods of studying. Part of their unconventional education involves the discovery of a secret club known as the Dead Poets Society that Keating established when he was a young student at the school. Inspired by their teacher, the boys revive the club’s traditions and meet in a cave, where their journeys of self-discovery lead to unintended consequences.
The Freedom Writers
The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction book about a group of at-risk students who are taught how to journal by a first-year English teacher, Erin Gruwell. Inviting her class to draw inspiration from such books as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Gruwell helps her students write about their own tumultuous lives. The Freedom Writers Diary is told from different perspectives. The students’ entries are anonymous and are often conveyed in dramatic and emotional tones. As the students progress from freshmen to seniors, their writing styles mature and develop, demonstrating the way that their education has prepared them for college acceptance.
Tuesdays with Morrie
Tuesdays with Morrie is a true story about the lasting bond between a student, Mitch Albom, and his revered college professor, Morrie Schwartz. After college, Albom abandons his dream of becoming a professional musician and eventually works as a sports columnist instead. Years later, Schwartz, who is dying, reconnects with his former student who feels like a failure. Reuniting after 16 years, they decide to meet every Tuesday to share life experiences and memories. Over the course of several weeks both men reflect on life’s lessons and the natural occurrence of death as part of life. The professor’s final instruction to his student has a profound effect on both men.
To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher
Bill Ayers’s book, To Teach, is a nonfiction book about education reform drawn from the author’s personal experiences. Ayers is known for his prominence as a political leader in Chicago and his support of President Barack Obama’s political career. His groundbreaking arguments about the flaws of the public school system have gained popularity over the years. He insisted that school systems are too bureaucratic and rigid, thus hindering the creativity and personal development of students. Believing that standardized tests risked de-humanizing students, he touted the importance of teachers instructing interactively and holistically, while respecting the individuality of each and every student.
Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year
Educating Esme, by Esme Raji Codell, is drawn from journal entries written during Codell’s first year teaching at-risk students at an urban school. Codell delves into her day-to-day observations and emotions as she attempts to help troublesome teenagers and navigate the expectations of dysfunctional parents and colleagues alike. Codell describes the difficulty of maintaining her optimism as she tries to reason with both administrators and students. Her enthusiasm is unshakable as she devises new and creative ways to battle the bureaucrats and motivate the children to learn.
Push, by Sapphire, is a novel about a 16-year-old girl, Precious, struggling to overcome insurmountable odds with the help of her rigorous teacher, Ms. Rain, at a special school for abused girls. Ms. Rain supports Precious’ journey of self-discovery by helping her face the consequences of her parents’ sexual abuse and encouraging her to cultivate a positive self-image. With the help of her new support network, Precious begins to make major changes in her life and commits to following a different path. Under her teacher’s guidance she empowers herself to pursue an education and take better care of her son, refusing to follow in her mother’s tragic footsteps.