On Teacher Appreciation Day, Props To a Teacher Who Made a Difference in My Life

My high school biology teacher, now known to me simply as Gleason, was a huge Saved By The Bell fan. This alone should win him teacher of the year, every.single.year. But if that doesn't convince you, here's what was also impressive about my favorite teacher: Gleason figured out that the formula for getting a class of 9th grade students to care about school is to care deeply for them in return.

Gleason's mission was to make sure every class was spent paying attention to him, instead of finding a sly way to text. In just 45 minutes, he turned a class of skeptical students into believers. Come June, if you had asked anyone why they wanted to pass the biology regents, the number one shared response would have been because no one wanted to fail Gleason.

In high school, I was shy. But the nature of Gleason's teaching style forced me to participate. He injected humor into relatively dull topics by using the laser on his powerpoint clicker to call on students and make us laugh. I wouldn't have been comfortable giving tours during open house or presenting in front of large groups if it hadn't been for his class. I would never even have been brave enough to write if I hadn't first been forced to stand up for what I believe in — even if it was simply backing up my answer in my bio class.

By the end of the school year, I had an A to show for my work, a newfound and surprising appreciation for biology, and a role model to look up to. It's no surprise that when Gleason explained he would not be returning to our school the following year that he had to look upon 30-something very disappointed faces.

Amazingly, he kept in touch. I have Gleason to thank for reading draft after draft of a college essay I wouldn't have written, had it not been for his support. He forced me to move away from easier essay topics and to focus on how my mother's death molded me into the person I am. He was the first person to tell me that my story was a story of strength, and not of pity.

I’m now a couple of weeks away from college graduation, and a long way from that 9th grade biology class. But I can still remember vividly the times where I would sit with my friends on desks and just talk to Gleason about anything: boys (according to him no dating until we were 30), other classes (we had to suck it up and study), and family problems (none were too big). With him, no topic was off the table. And to me, this simple act of listening spelled out the mother of all lessons: you have to choose to be kind and genuine above all else.

For that lesson, and many more, I will always be grateful to my favorite teacher.