"The Teacher that
Changed My Life"
Most of us had a special teacher that had a lasting effect on us, either for the knowledge they imparted, the wisdom they shared, the self-confidence he inspired, or all of the above. The Guilford Fund for Education would like teachers, here in Guilford and everywhere, to know we know what you do for our children, we appreciate the gifts you give the community, and we understand the importance of all you do for the future.
Here are seven testimonies to the lasting effects our teachers have on us.
Executive Director, The Guilford Art Center
GFFE Volunteer and Past Board Member
I went to North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I had this amazing teacher named Dean Cobb. I’m sure that many of his students would tell you the same story: He was legendary and super inspirational. He taught public speaking, radio/tv/film, and acting. He was the coach of the Forensics Team and director of all the theater productions.
It was in “Cobb’s” classes that I discovered I actually had some talent for something I didn’t know I had. Some of us were like groupies--we took every class, did Forensics, joined the Radio Club, and did plays. I developed confidence in getting up in front of a crowd. I was actually a very shy person, and Cobb helped me realize for the first time that I was good at this, that I was articulate, and that I was a good writer. It really did change my life because I went from being shy to a more confident person.
I went to high school in the late 1970s and it was very divided by social group. There were the jocks, the burn-outs, and the rest of us. Everybody in that high school took Cobb’s classes. One annual assignment was a music pantomime--all these different types of kids would come together and make good-natured fools of themselves; there were costumes (lotsa Elton John), posturing, air guitar. It was a great leveler. Some kids who were totally cool, kings-of-the-school would be humbled, and some of the nerdy kids were really talented. That type of coming together really didn’t happen otherwise in my high school.
Some of my high school friends and I still tell really funny stories about what happened in those classes. I can’t even begin to tell you! But they were hilarious and formative experiences. Working with Cobb was as important to me socially as academically. We learned stuff—the rules of debate, who Stanislavsky was, how to make a short film, and we watched classic movies. But many of “the rest of us” also found our social group (Theater “Maunts,” we were called; there were “Band Maunts,” too; this has to be a term unique to my high school). Cobb was like the coach for the non-sporty kids. Which felt important. Because he was involved in so many extracurricular activities, he reminds me of Ms. Mulqueen, because the students’ connection with him was more than just during school hours.
He was a great guy, and more than just a teacher. He was a mentor.
Chairman, Guilford Board of Education
When I was asked to identify the teacher who changed my life, it occurred to me that it would be entirely impossible for me to do that. In thinking about all the teachers I’ve had from elementary school through law school, I must say that the great majority of them had some influence on me, one way or another. As an exercise getting ready to meet with GFFE, I tried to remember the names of every teacher I ever had. Even after all these years, I’m pretty sure I have them all. More to the point, I can remember something positive about all of them. That’s how important all my teachers have been to me.
I imagine that most people would say that it was a high school teacher who had the greatest influence, and perhaps that would be true of me too. In high school, I was at an age when I was most easily influenced. Having two sixteen-year old children of my own, I’m reminded how important it was to be reassured at school that I had potential and skills, that I could use them in life to be successful, and that I was going to be OK despite being faced with many unknowns. That’s what my teachers did for me over and over again. It was very important and very powerful, and with gratitude I will never forget what they did for me.
Dr. Paul Freeman
Guilford Superintendent of Schools
I met English teacher Dennis Whalen my freshmen year at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, CT. Mr. Whalen changed the course of my life.
Mr. Whalen was a young, enthusiastic and smart teacher who spoke to students as though we were adults. And, because Notre Dame was a small school, I was able to take four classes with him, in English and journalism, during my four years in high school.
When I was in the 10th grade, Mr. Whalen introduced me to Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and Ken Kesey. These were, of course, writers of adult genres. We weren’t reading their books in class, but Mr. Whalen would encourage me to go home and read their works. And I did. I would go home at night and read Heller’s Catch 22. I wouldn’t understand all that I had read until I talked about it with Mr. Whalen the next morning. After five minutes with him, the confusing plot lines would make sense and I would go home the next night, read more, and talk to him again the next morning. This became a ritual that we both came to expect and enjoy. I would appreciate our conversations because Mr. Whalen would talk to me as he would another adult. This was a defining time for me as I clearly remember crossing that proverbial bridge from childhood to adulthood and seeing my future begin to take shape.
It was during this time that my appreciation for literature and writing flourished. I became the editor of my high school newspaper and subsequently my college newspaper too. In college, I slowly shifted my focus from journalism to education. I credit Mr. Whelan and his influence with my decision to become an educator. My first job was an English Language Arts teacher.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this story. Dennis Whalen passed away before I had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated him or just how much he influenced my life.
And by the way, when I travel, there’s always a beat-up copy of Catch 22 that goes with me.
Former Principal, Guilford High School
The teacher who changed my life was Virginia ‘Ginny’ LaBrant, a high school teacher in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I met her, I was a senior in college and needed a linguistics’ course to complete my major. The course was not being offered either semester. To accommodate my need, the college hired a teacher who provided the required instruction to me throughout the semester. That teacher was Ginny and that instruction was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
When I graduated from college, I began teaching at the high school where Ginny taught. Her recommendation of me to the school’s principal was the beginning of a wonderful career in education.
Ginny became a role model to me. I aspired to be the kind of teacher she was. The impact she has had on me has been enduring, and the lessons she has taught me about teaching and learning have had a powerful impact on me as a teacher and later as a principal.
I learned so much from experiencing her total commitment to teaching, learning and her compassionate interest in all the students that she taught. Ginny was always kind and sincere to her students and she was always sensitive to the needs of all students. Her connection with students is something that I aspire to even today. She was generous with her time and empathetic with students, parents, and her peers. She was a tremendously effective teacher and she had enormous credibility in the community as an educator. Students and colleagues will forever attest to Ginny’s dedication to education and her skills as a teacher.
Ginny was instrumental in providing a strong foundation in my career. Her guidance, support, and purposeful interaction with students, colleagues, and families strengthened my resolve to be the best educator possible.
A quote from Jesse Stuart, a former teacher, administrator and author best sums up my experience and relationship with Virginia ‘Ginny’ LaBrant. It reads: “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”
Executive Director, The Guilford Foundation
I have been lucky to have had many wonderful teachers in my life (including my mom), however, the one that really stands out (sorry mom) is Karl “Chip” Case.
I first met Chip as a senior in high school in early 1990 when I was deciding where to go to college. Chip was the self-appointed athletic recruiter for Wellesley College, a lonely job at the Division III women’s college at that time—but he was highly effective. I enrolled in the fall.
Chip mentored several types of us “kids.” There was the “academic star type,” who seemed to fire on all cylinders and just needed a subtle word of guidance here and there. The “international transplant type,” who came from across oceans and mountains to this weird, snowy New England world and needed a life translator and local champion. The “geniuses of economics type,” for whom he held a special place in his heart and ensured internships, letters of recommendation, and jobs held in the most prestigious places. And finally, the “scratch and dent” kids. You know, the kids who came to Wellesley with some baggage. Brimming with potential, yet carrying a spotty history of decision-making. And if you were a “scratch and dent kid,” and also happened to be an athlete, you had no choice but to be pulled into Chip’s orbit. I was one of Chip’s “kids,” of the scratch and dent variety of course, but all his kids, regardless of “type” received the same wisdom, love, comfort and attention. My story is just one of hundreds of testimonies to Chip’s influence and dedication to his “kids.”
Twenty-seven years ago, when I entered Wellesley, I was an immature, irreverent and cocky athlete, made somewhat bearable by healthy parts of insecurity and lack of self-confidence. By the time I graduated, I was immeasurably more secure and self-confident—and as a result, probably (I hope) a much nicer person. Much of my growth can be credited to Chip and his dedication to me and his other “kids.”
How did that happen? Partially through athletics. The legend of Chip’s basketball team of the 90s is the story of a team that during the 1989-1990 season experienced a win loss record of two and twenty. That’s two wins and twenty losses. Just two years later, thanks in large part to Chip’s tutelage, we lost just one game during the regular season, and went on to the win the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament, putting our record for the year at twenty-four wins and just two losses.
The other part was academic. Around the end of my first year at Wellesley, Chip told me that he had written down and sealed in an envelope what I would do after graduation. Based on his adulation of and constant talking about a former mentee and Rhodes Scholar, I had my suspicions that he had similar aspirations for me. With his encouragement and faith in my ability, I proceeded to work as hard as I could, at practice, at work, and in the classroom. And, my senior year, wouldn’t you know it, I was selected as a Rhodes Scholar candidate to represent Wellesley. I then earned a spot from my home state of New Mexico and was on my way to the finals. The fact that I was National Finalist and in that room with some of the most accomplished and dynamic college seniors in the nation was nothing short of stunning. It was more than I had ever been, and more than I ever thought I could ever be. I ended up losing the scholarship to another, more worthy candidate, but I never lost the feeling that I had something significant to offer the world.
This was his greatest gift—he believed in his “kids” and he helped us to begin to believe in ourselves. And it is that gift of Chip’s that we carry with us forever. He touched so many, so profoundly and with such care and subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) guidance. Chip passed away after a long illness in 2016, and a few dozen of his “kids” came together to celebrate his life and his impact on us. Our stories were similar—full of laughter and hijinks, getting through tough spots, and becoming better humans, all because of Chip. The power a teacher has on a life is profound. I am eternally grateful that I fell into Chip’s orbit and will always be indebted to my experience as one of his “kids.”
The teacher who changed my life was Jim Powers, who still teaches at Guilford High School. Jim was my Social Studies teacher at GHS my sophomore year. He opened my eyes to the notion of community service, politics in particular, in such an effective way it changed the course of my life. Because of him, I came to understand that I could make a difference in the world through government service. That was a notion I had never considered before and a notion that I have held onto ever since and which has guided me through each step of my life.
Ct. State Representative District 98
Teacher and Coach, Guilford High School
I don’t think I could say that there’s one favorite teacher, but there’s definitely a single theme with all my favorites. The teachers I think of most fondly, are the teachers that gave me moral support; that not only taught their subjects, but taught me self-respect and how to find and make use of my personal strengths.
One of those that comes to mind immediately is Dr. Karl Reinhardt. He was a professor of mine at Southern. Prior to that, I had selected education as a major, so I had already made some connections with other really amazing teachers that helped me navigate to that. Mary Binkowski, a teacher and coach of mine at Guilford High School, was one. She still teaches, and we’re still good friends and colleagues.
It was at Southern that I really got into my major of Exercise Science. There were challenging courses in which Dr. Reinhardt just made me want to learn. He made learning exciting, even when it was difficult.
For example, if I had to read an article, or a segment of a book in my major, I would sometimes think that just because I liked the subject, didn’t mean I was going to get it or be good at it. Dr. Reinhardt really helped me work through these struggles. He’d let me wrestle with something, but he’d be helpful at the same time. His support made me want to work harder. I just never wanted to disappoint him.
And then there was the “ripple part” [theme for the 2017 GPS convocation]. I never invited him to home soccer games, but he often just showed up and gave his support. He got to know me and the other students and what our interests were. He took the time and effort to understood us as a whole picture; not just ‘you’re my student in this class Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 to 11.
I have a picture of him in my office to this day. When I have days that are not my A-game, and I see his picture, I ask myself, “what would Dr. Reinhardt do?” or “what would Dr. Reinhardt say to me to give me a little push?” There’s always a little bit more that you can give, a little bit more you can do. Dr. Reinhardt’s mentoring gave me the incentive to go that extra mile; to always work to be a better person. And in that way, he helped make me the person I am today.