Considering how in love I seem to be with academia, I think it’s almost a given that the most influential people in my life have been my teachers. I doubt many of them know it, but the lessons they taught me made me who I am.
The earliest influential teacher I clearly remember was Mr. Blackley, my sixth grade GATE(Gifted and Talented Education. Oh yes.) teacher. Even more important than Mr. Blackley himself was Blackleyville, a surprisingly complete town created in our very own classroom. We designed our a currency, applied for jobs, bought cars, and even paid rent on our desks. I had four duties in Blackleyville: electrician, city council member, banker, and entrepreneur. I neglected my simple electician’s job of turning on the television for morning announcements on a regular basis and city council meetings were essentially just opportunities for the half dozen of us to joke around without the teacher regulating us, but I was a phenomenal banker and business owner. I created new, more efficient ways for each of the bankers to keep track of our customers. Stephanie, my best friend and business partner, helped me to become one of the most prominent citizens of Blackleyville by selling pens and pet rocks(really) to younger students on our monthly market days. I’ve always been quiet, so in sixth grade, I quietly ran Blackleyville. The newscasters may have had the fame, but I had the power. If I were to trace my current thirst for success and influence – not money – to its roots, I would find myself at the Blackleyville Bank.
Mr. Cornwall taught me chemistry and physics during my sophomore and senior years of high school. Other students couldn’t stand him, saying he was mean and wouldn’t answer students’ questions, but I knew better. They just weren’t asking the right questions. I constantly hear professors and other leaders reassuring those around them that there are no stupid questions. Mr. Cornwall believed that, though no question is stupid, many questions are vague, hastily asked, and, with respect to science class, poorly veiled attempts to get the teacher to spoon-feed students the answer. After a few months of class, I could reliable get Mr. Cornwall to answer my questions because I knew exactly what needed explaining and had already put forth sufficient effort to solve my problem myself. In his class, deciding how to ask a question was a learning experience in itself and I keep that with me to this day.
Mr. Jack, you were one of the most supportive teachers I ever had. You loved the school and loved to teach, but most importantly, you believed in your students. I may not have silly anecdotes about banks and pet rocks to share, but you’re still one of the teachers I have the urge to visit every single time I drive by my old high school. I promise I’ll come by before I leave for London.
Mr. Avey, thank you for dealing with me during lunch all those years. I’m sure you don’t remember, but when you read my college application essay, you told me that my writing had voice – that my writing really was me. You said I should never let that go. This is brief because you’ve impacted my life in so many ways that trying to explain them all would just drag on and cheapen the sentiment even more than this explanation already does. Anyway, thank you.
The fall semester of my freshman year of college was ideal. I had two silly, yet educational classes, and two classes that set the stage for the changes and growth I would experience in the coming years. One of those classes was philosophy, where I spent four hours a week rethinking who I was and why I believed it so, asking questions and having my weak arguments torn to shreds and honestly working to discover who I was.
The other class was a required freshman course which blended reading, writing, and ethics. Everyone hates this class. They loathe it. There are Facebook groups dedicated to hating this class. I was warned about my professor near the beginning of the semester- older students said that no finished with an A. I did, but that wasn’t the amazing part. The incredible thing about that class was how much it made me care. I wanted to prove my worth to skeptical Dr. Garcia-Sheets, but by the end of the class, I truly just wanted to prove my worth to myself. I believed in the words I wrote and, luckily, she agreed. That was the first class that genuinely pushed me to exceed my own expectations and, most importantly, to do it because I believed in myself.
Professor Lichter-Heath, there’s an LSAT prep book sitting in my closet because of you. I was in your office the day before an exam, asking my last few questions, when you asked my if I had ever considered going to law school. You let me know that I would probably hate law school, as most do, but that I should go because I should be a lawyer. You planted a seed that turned into the career plan that makes me smile even after the longest of days because I finally know I’m headed somewhere I’d really like to be.
Professor Brierton, thank you for fueling those law school flames. (Yes, my dreams of law school are both plants and fire. It’s complicated.) Your classes were tough and I’m sorry for being groggy during Commercial Law at 8:00 AM, but I promise I paid attention. When I sat in on a contract law class at Berkeley, the things I learned your Employment Law and Commercial Law classes kept me afloat and, at times, ahead of the legitimate law students all around me.
Though I cannot speak on the long-term influence this course and professor will have on my life, I can say that I am grateful to have taken Operations Management from Professor Price. This, again, seems to be an unpopular opinion. Business students say Ops is difficult. Business students say Professor Price is impossible. I say they they aren’t trying hard enough. When I began this class in January, I had heard nothing good about it and I was prepared to have a hellish semester just trying to stay alive in Ops. You couldn’t believe how scared I was to come to Price’s office hours for help on a homework problem, but I held my chin high and feigned intellectual bravery as we discussed the optimal number of queues to have at a fictional hotel check-in. On my way out the door, Price hollered after me “I like you, Katherine,” and you know what? I liked him too. He showed me that challenging students was the quickest way to a less-than-shiny reputation, but the rewards for the students who rise to the challenge are so much better than simple test scores. I love Operations and I love being able to laugh with the professor so many seem to fear. I love these things because I achieved them and I wouldn’t feel the same if Professor Price had made it any easier.
Looking back, all of these instructors have come together to teach me two very important lessons: one, achievement is nothing without the work it took to get there, and two, the drive to achieve must come from within. I am glad that I am internally motivated to make my future into something I care about, but I could not have gotten here without so many mentors along the way.