Her name was Helen Lee. She was my English teacher in high school, and she wouldn't let me get away with anything. I came into class one day, and she was waving a copy of The Spotlight, our school newspaper, at me; it had one of my articles on the front page. "Why don't you ever write anything this good for class?" she demanded. From then on, I tried to. A friend of mine once asked her why she'd given him a C on a paper when a classmate's paper, clearly not as good, had gotten a B. "You can do better," she said. "He can't." She let us know in every way she could in every class session that there was only one way she judged us: by our own potential and whether we made the effort to achieve it.
So count me among the 63 percent in this poll who say they had one special teacher who made a difference in their lives. And I echo the feelings of those who say the teacher's influence went far beyond the particulars of the subject matter taught. I'm doing this today -- subjecting you to what I think and why I think it -- because Helen Lee pushed me. It's not that she believed in me, exactly, but that she insisted I believe in myself, discover what I could do and then pursue it.
The great teachers don't really impart knowledge. They make you want to discover it, in the world and in yourself. They make you love to learn, and then live to learn.
If you have kids going to or back to school this year, do them and yourself a favor: Talk to them and find out who that teacher is and make sure that teacher has your support and encouragement. And if there isn't such a teacher, do whatever it takes to find one, even if it means changing schools.